Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Since after Friday I won't have much access to a computer for typing on for a month, it's unlikely there will be anymore posts until February, unless I can squeeze one in by the end of the week, which I probably won't. So here's a quick status update on all the games I've playing as the Currently playing list has grown exponentially.

Grand Theft Auto IV; Chugging through this slowly, I'll probably finish it, but I'm not sure I'll write a post on it due to how enormous of a game it is.

Comet Crash; Playing off and on. I doubt I'll finish it, though I may write up a post on it.

Flower; Only played for a couple minutes so far, I doubt I'll get around to completing it any time soon.

PixelJunk Shooter; Played in co-op mostly, really fun game. I plan to write a post on this.

Assassin's Creed II; I've beaten the game, and there is a post on it half done, just haven't felt the inspiration to finish it.

Demon's Souls; Christ this game is hard. Played a bit of it for an hour or so, only to be booted all the way back to the beginning with no souls. Talk about learning from your mistakes. I do plan to write a post on this.

Saint's Row 2; Actually, my first inclination was to sell this and put the profits towards one of the spring '10 releases (as I have no interest in the game), but even if i put up for sale, i wouldnt be able to charge more than $10-15, so heck I guess I'll just keep it. Not sure if I'll do a post though.

Dead Space; Played this from start to finish last week, it's a great game. Though I doubt I'll have time to, I'd like to play through again and go for the One Gun trophy.

inFamous; I've really been meaning to finish the evil campaign on this (mainly for the trophies), but that's about it.

Bioshock; I meant to write a post about this a month ago, but then I got pre-occupied with Assassin's Creed II and Borderlands. I'm honestly not sure if I'm gonna finish it, though I want to.

Dragon Age: Origins; This is what's been consuming most of my life lately. When I'm not eating, sleeping, or with friends, I'm playing this. I want to write a post on it, but if I did, it would inevitably be HUGE. So maybe I won't.

Left 4 Dead; Been playing a bit of this here and there (caught it for $7 on Steam's Black Friday), it's a really fun game. Though I can't say I have much interest in L4D2. Prolly won't be a post on this one, but who knows.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic; Another game I bought from Steam on Black Friday. Unfortunately, I can't get it to run. >=/ Not a big deal since it was only $2, but I heard this game was awesome, so I am disappointed that it doesn't work with Windows 7 (yet).

So, that's most of what's up with me. My sis wants to buy Army of Two: The 40th Day, so I might have a post on that as well.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Assassin's Creed II

Almost like platformers, great singleplayer games are a dying breed. Too often are games that are not RPGs and/or lack multiplayer disregarded because of the preconception that they simply aren't worth the price tag. But thankfully, Ubisoft is here to prove that a game can certainly be full of lasting appeal and still lack multiplayer. Enter Assassin's Creed II.

Assassin's Creed II, as the "II" would denote, is a sequel. And a damn good one, at that. The first Assassin's Creed followed a young man named Desmond, who is kidnapped by a large organization known as Abstergo, and forced to relive the memories of his ancestors, starting with a professional assassin named Altair. The player watched Altair as he worked to reclaim his honor after a mishap sees him demoted to the lowest ranks of his order. In the process, both him and Desmond stumble upon a revelation far bigger than they imagined.

At the beginning of Assassin's Creed II, Desmond is rescued from Abstergo, and meets other members of the present-day Assassins. To train Desmond in their ways while simultaneously investigating the information revealed in the first game, this time he relives the memories of his ancestor Ezio Auditore de Firenze. Much like Desmond, Ezio begins as a regular (albeit mischievous) young man, but the murder of his father and brothers leads him to take up the suit and weaponry of the assassin. What begins as a quest for revenge once again unravels into a plot far larger than him or Desmond.

While the story itself is compelling and well paced, that's only one part of the game. The first Assassin's Creed had a great story, but some will argue that the major pros stopped there. Fortunately, Ubisoft made sure not to repeat this, and went above and beyond to improve every single aspect of the player experience, starting with the Free Run system.

Free Run is an incredibly nifty movement system introduced in the first game that allowed players to traverse almost any type of terrain in a relatively swift and efficient manner. Holding R1 and X while pushing forward on the stick prompts Ezio to sprint forward, automatically climbing or vaulting over any obstacles he encounters. Run into a wall, he'll jump up and immediately start scaling it, continuing to run forward across the rooftop, and automatically leaping across any gaps. All you really have to do is steer, and Ezio will do the rest. However, here's where a slight problem arises. The Free Run system is absolutely great for exploring the cities, but getting much precision out of it for tighter spaces or planned getaways takes more practice than should be necessary. What feels like a slight movement with the stick often translates to a near 90-degree turn in game, which can be annoying at best, and rather frustrating at worst. The other thing is, due to the camera not always giving you the best view of just what you're going to land on when you jump off a roof, eager players will quickly find themselves taking more damage from accidental falls than any enemy's blade. Fortunately, the game rarely seriously penalizes you for movement mistakes outside of the Assassin's Tombs (which are optional). Even the speed run sidequests are often lax on their time goal.

Combat also received a beefy upgrade, as not only does Ezio utilize a few more tools of death than his predecessor, he has a variety of new abilities. Among his new toys are dual hidden blades, a wrist mounted firearm, and poison. The addition of a second hidden blade allows him to perform dual assassinations, killing two targets in one swift motion. Meanwhile, the gauntlet pistol, the last weapon you acquire in the game, allows you to kill targets in one shot. Even with all this new stuff, the game still feels balanced, with each weapon having its pluses and minuses. For example, swords ands hammers are the easiest to parry with, and thus are excellent all-around weapons, though lacking any outstanding attributes. The pistol will kill any target in a single hit, but Ezio requires several seconds to get a perfect bead on the target, and is vulnerable while aiming. It also attracts a lot of attention, and thus isn't usually suited to stealthier kills. Throwing knives, as an alternative, often only do minor damage, but Ezio is quicker on the draw with them, and you can carry far more of them (you can carry up to 20 throwing knives, but only 6 bullets). The hidden blades require far more precise timing to block and parry with than held weapons, and thus aren't suited to all-out combat, but their small size allows Ezio to "kill on the go", quickly stabbing someone from behind or tackling them.

But even with all these new ways to kill people, Ezio still has his fists, potentially the most potent weapon of all. Even with no weapons equipped, you'd be a fool to think he's not dangerous. Upset a villager who wants his pickpocketed money back? With a quick flick of RI and Square, you can counter his clumsily thrown sucker punch and end with a brutally delivered knee to the face, non-lethally defeating him. Beyond regular punches, you can counter almost every attack enemies throw at you. If you are unarmed, fighting an armed opponent, you can even disarm them, wrenching their weapon right out of their hands and, if you so choose, slaughtering them with it.  But Ezio's move repertoire still doesn't end there.  You can taunt enemies to draw their attention (or just talk smack, of course), dodge and strafe, and, if they are weakened enough, grab opponents by the collar and proceed to punch, headbutt, and/or kick the stuffing out of them.  You can even learn how to throw sand/dirt to momentarily blind your enemies.

And let me tell you, the finishers are brutal. The developers once said that they were designed to make you wince when you see them, and it works. I personally unequip any weapons I have when a Brute-type enemy (guards wielding broadswords, battle axes, or spears) is in battle, so I can disarm him and watch one of the finishers for his weapon. Ezio often leaves the weapon stuck in the victim's body, making it even more gruesome to behold. Try hitting an enemy from behind or countering with a sledgehammer or two handed weapon, and you'll see what I mean (though the finishers for ALL the weapons are pretty satisfying).  Overall the fighting system is excellently done, but crowd fights (which are pretty much they only fights you'll be in) are unrealistic.  Enemies take turns attacking, and simply button mashing reveals how stiff Ezio's regular attacks can be.  So while the combat system is still fun, it's not nearly as fluid or believable as, say, the one in Batman: Arkham Asylum.

But sometimes you may find it better to avoid combat altogether.  To avoid attention, you can sit on benches, hide in hay bales or wells, or simply blend by walking with crowds and not doing anything conspicuous.  Not all guards will be fooled however, and depending on your notoriety (which rises with various spectacular actions and is quelled by bribing heralds and ripping down posters of you), they might be actively searching you.  When they're on your tail, like in GTA4 a circle will appear, which indicates the area that they'll be searching for you in.  Leave that circle without being seen, and find a place to hide and they'll quickly give up.

As you progress through the game, you'll be constantly invited to engage in various side activities. Minor examples of this include hunting down cheating husbands, small scale assassinations, and foot races. Most of them are actually pretty amusing (I especially enjoy the extra assassinations). There are also more significant side attractions, such as the Assassin Tombs. These are designed to challenge your agility and ability to think on the go, presenting various areas and obstacles courses you must traverse, usually under a strict time limit. Though entirely optional, completing all of the tombs gives you access to the strongest (and coolest looking) armor in the game. And then there's of course the collectables, which come in two flavors: feathers and glyphs. There are 20 glyphs inscribed on various historical structures in each of the cities, and with each glyph comes an accompanying puzzle presented to you by the mysterious Subject 16, another person captured by Abstergo who learned far more than he bargained for during his time in the Animus, and split up his findings into pieces and encrypted them. The feathers (of which there are 100) aren't quite as significant to the plot at large, but you can collect them as a personal monument of sorts to your slain family members.

But once again the developers didn't stop with just a great story, excellent gameplay and impressive replay value.  They went on to work on the presentation, graphics and overall performance of the game.  Visually, Assassin's Creed II is dazzling.  Ubisoft has successfully managed to emulate the same kind of detail and fluidity that Rockstar achieved with Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV.  Pickpockets dart in between crowds, various shop owners can be heard from all directions hawking out their wares.  Throw money on the ground and people respond in a big way.  Get in a fight, and the citizens will form a ring, cheering excitedly as the action unfolds.  Men try to woo prostitutes, and guards stay on vigilant patrol (unless distracted by money or whores).  Bystanders may cheer you on for defeating guards, but will boo and insult you for being a bully.  This is a living, breathing world and it shows.

The cities themselves are also spectacles to behold, with each one having a very unique feel.  The devs worked hard to rebuild these cities as replicas of their real life counter parts, and it shows.  There are over a dozen historical structures to be found as well.  Basically, this is a game with  not just a rich fictional backstory, but a rich historical backstory.

The game performs well overall, but there some slowdown, notably with large crowds and when the Animus is reconstructing each city (though that may be intentional).  Glitches were few and far between, but the corpse physics are a little weird.  There's a mandatory install, but loading times are not only interactive but not overly long or frequent.

Assassin's Creed II is an excellent game.  Ubisoft knows it, and hopefully after playing it for a bit most other people will too, even if they also know it's not quite their cup of tea (there's a difference between not liking a game, and it being good).  Ezio's tale is one worth hearing, and the story at large, while complex, is interesting (though the ending will break it for some people) and pushes you forward just perfectly, even though it still manages to step around certain tidbits.  There's also a lot of replay value to be had here, from collecting the feathers to solving the glyph puzzles (and I didn't even mention the Villa).  Plus, it's also fun just roaming around getting in fights and such.  A 9.5/10.

Monday, November 23, 2009


This past few years, the shooter genre has become extremely inflated, to the point where creating a truly innovative first-person shooter has become one of the bigger hurdles for developers in the industry. But it's good to see developers are still trying. While games like Modern Warfare 2, Killzone 2 and Halo 3 remain the epitome of the term generic shooter, we've still seen some good attempts to take the genre from a different angle. Borderlands is one such attempt.

However, it's probably best that you live your FPS mindset at the door, because Borderlands is also an RPG. Indeed, perhaps it would be prudent to call this an Action RPG with guns.

The thing even the most seasoned FPS players will be dismayed to learn is that, no matter how quick your reflexes are, you'll still find yourself beating a hasty retreat to enemies who are above your level. Though you do have to aim, of course, it's more just to save bullets than anything else. This is more an RPG with shooter elements, rather than a shooter with RPG elements. That said, the game only offers a core RPG experience, instead making an attempt to balance elements of the two genres.

The game hits the ground running, introducing you to the four classes, while running you through various aspects of the gameplay. The four classes are the Brick (A melee-oriented berserker), Siren (A sassy young woman who has a preference for elemental weapons), Hunter (A sniper with a pet attack hawk), and Soldier (A veteran who has ample medic and support abilities). Each class has its own unique ability and skill tree, and also has preferences for one weapon type or another, granting damage bonuses when a gun of that type is equipped. For example, the Soldier can deploy a turret that not only defends him, but provides decent cover. His skill tree features such perks as having the turret continually restock any allies nearby, or giving his shots healing capabilities (like the Medic's Phoenix weapon in Resistance 2).

Borderlands also features a loot system that Diablo players will be right at home with. The game's engine randomly generates weapons from various parts, colors, and ammo types, meaning there are essentially hundreds of thousands of weapons in the game. You could come across a shotgun with a scope, a pistol that shoots rockets, a submachine gun with incendiary properties, the possibilities are limitless. But since, even with inventory upgrades, you can't carry more than a couple dozen items at a time, you'll be swapping weapons and items VERY frequently, to stay on the cutting edge. Weapons you don't need can be sold for a decent price (I'd say besides quests, selling stuff you don't need will be your primary income source).

However, the story is very light for an RPG. The beginning tells the story of a planet known as Pandora, an unfriendly land featuring little more than dust and rocks. However, legend has it that there's a secret hidden on the planet. This secret, known as the Vault, is said to contain everything a person could ever want, from riches to women. Of course this sounds pretty far-fetched, but as you prepare to get off the bus (after choosing your class), an unknown woman appears in your mind, claiming that the Vault does in fact exist, and encouraging you to seek it out. She continues to pop up periodically throughout the game to offer advice and comment on your journey thus far.

Few of the characters have much of any backstory to speak of, though it's implied in the beginning that the four class characters have been friends since they were children. You arrive on Pandora knowing nothing about it or it's inhabitants; just the legend of the Vault. I think this is a bit of a missed opportunity, but it doesn't seem like the focus of the game was ever on the narrative anyway.

On the HUD you'll find a variety of useful things, including a compass, your level progression meter, and your shield and health meters. Borderlands features a health system much like Halo's (the first one). You have a shield (which, like weapons and other gadgets, is upgradeable and likely will be swapped out frequently) which blocks attacks until it's depleted, at which point your health starts to drop. Your shield will recharge after a few seconds of not being hit, but health usually has to be restored with items. EXP comes from defeating enemies and completing quests. Some will be happy to know that you'll rarely have to grind for XP or even money in Borderlands. Quests give you pretty big chunks of both XP and money for your troubles, and any monsters killed and unneeded weapons sold in between will likely pick up loose ends. As long as you keep a healthy quest log stuffed with active quests, you'll find you're almost always at the right level to continue progressing. And you'll always have something to do, for that matter.

Borderlands also features four player co-op. You can either play locally in two-player splitscreen, or online with three others. The co-op is really fun, but only if each of the players are at or around the same level. While it is possible to boost (MMO term for a veteran player accelerating the level progression of a newer player) lower leveled buddies, until they reach your level, they'll find themselves unable to help much at all in battles, since you'll be hard-pressed to take on enemies more than 2 levels above you (similar to other RPGs). To be frank, comrades that aren't strong enough to help you in battle aren't much more than dead weight.

Overall, Borderlands is also a great-looking game, featuring a cell-shaded graphic engine. Bugs are minimal, and loading times only occur when you first start up the game, and when transporting between regions (yes, regions. Each of which are gigantic, despite the reasonable load time). The engine also handles chaotic situations well. Even in splitscreen the frame rate rarely dips noticeably.

Overall, Borderlands is a great game. More effort could have been put towards the story and characters, and the cooperative play isn't as accessible as I might have liked (though that's to be expected from an RPG). The game is light on both RPG and shooter elements, but retains enough of both to form a really fun experience. Moreover, this is a game with personality, and it really is almost one-of-a-kind. 8.0/10.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tornado Outbreak

Though many of fled the quarter, there's still a fair amount of truly excellent games making their mark on this holiday, among them the Big Three: Uncharted 2, Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin's Creed 2. It's easy for a quaint game like Tornado Outbreak to get completely washed away by blockbusters like these, but developer Loose Cannon Studios stood their ground (which is certainly more than can be said for certain other games), and released their game with apparently no fear. (Because you'd have to be fearless to go toe to toe with some of the other games coming out amirite?). I've heard that Loose Cannon was formed with members from Sucker Punch; It's certainly not hard to believe, as I can see a lot of the charm put into classic Sly Cooper games being placed here. Really, I'm not kidding. If you've played the Sly Cooper games, you will no doubt feel a very light sense of deja vu as you take in the art style, presentation, and soundtrack.

But that's certainly not a bad thing. While Tornado Outbreak might not have all the polish or pure muscle of other giants, it's still a pleasant experience.

In Tornado Outbreak you play as Zephyr, a senior member of a group of wind spirits known as the Wind Warriors. They come across a dying being who claims he was a hero in the dimension he came from, but the villains of his world defeated and banished him, scattering his power orbs as well. Zephyr and the team take it upon themselves to help him out, and head to the nearby Earth to gather up his six power orbs. The story isn't bad, but ultimately forgettable.

Tornado Outbreak's gameplay is, for all intents and purposes, a different angle on the Katamari games. You control Zephyr, who in turn controls a tornado, sucking up as much as you can (and steadily growing much bigger in the process) within the time limit. Though the game teaches you the fundamentals in the very first level, it only introduces other nuances of the game to you over a fairly steady basis. First you'll learn about the Fire Flyers, little critters who hide under certain objects and present an opportunity to reap a lot of extra points (and trophies). Then you'll learn new moves that you can use to help other elemental denizens of the world. Just like in Katamari, there's a lot of satisfaction to be had once you hit somewhere around Lv10, at which point you're now big enough to start sucking up individual buildings, skyscrapers, and other gigantic things. But this time I found more satisfaction from the crazy amount of Fire Flyers you can hoard at a time at that size, as larger objects yield larger amounts of Fire Flyers. I remember at one point I was juggling around 60 of them, which of course netted me a substantial time increase and points bonus.

Though the gameplay is solid, it's not especially compelling, and the game itself is pretty short, featuring not more than about ten stages, each of which can be completed in about 20-30 minutes. Granted, there are some unlockables (and, by extension, trophies) providing incentive to go back and ace each stage, but there's no denying that Tornado Outbreak won't last you long.

On a technical level, the graphics are quite lackluster, and look like something a PS2 could churn out (In fact, I saw a couple of effects that could have been ripped right out of an N64 game). The frame rate stutters slightly but noticeably when sucking up a lot of stuff within a small space of time, and becomes downrate unstable when you get somewhere around Lv13. However, the game doesn't require an install, and the loading times are reasonably brisk despite this.

Overall, Tornado Outbreak is good while it lasts, but unfortunately doesn't merit much more than a golf clap. A 6.5/10.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

It seems Mario games have become a bit of a mixed bag these days. There's the always widely lauded 3D platformers (Sunshine, Galaxy), and then there's the various sports and other genre games that Mario stars in, such as the long running Mario Party, Smash Bros, and Mario Kart series. Sometimes these turn out good, sometimes they turn out excellent, sometimes they turn out laughably mediocre. It is because of how not so great Mario's ventures outside of platforming have been that I chose to ignore his RPGs, such as Superstar Saga and Paper Mario.

Well obviously I made a mistake. Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is surprisingly pleasant from start to finish, with very few blemishes to speak of.

The game begins with a scene involving an average family of toads. The mother calls the family in for dinner, and suddenly the father comes crashing in through the wall, inflated to gargantuan size by a quickly spreading disease known as the Blorbs. Innocent toads everywhere are finding themselves unable to do much than roll around, and are overall having a miserable time. Princess Peach calls for a committee meeting to discuss the problem, and the possibility of a cure, when Bowser storms in, angry that he wasn't invited. A hilarious battle tutorial ensues as Mario and Luigi send him packing.

Bowser storms off to a nearby forest and encounters a strange merchant claiming the Koopa King has won an obscure contest, earning him a mysterious mushroom. The mushroom causes Bowser to inhale pretty much everything around him, including Peach, the Bros, and a whole lotta toads when he returns to the castle.

The "merchant" reveals himself to be none other than Lord Fawful, who was apparently an assistant to the villain of the last game. He plans to take over not only Peach's castle, but also Bowser's! Of course Bowser isn't going let that happen without a fight.

This sets the premise for the primary gameplay twist; the top screen follows Bowser and his efforts to stop Fawful from taking his castle, and on the bottom screen you'll find Mario and Luigi, who spend most of their time traversing Bowser's body. Switching between the two is as easy as pressing A or B for the Bros, and X or Y for Bowser.

While these two elements share a lot of elements, there's enough differences for the two to feel very distinct from each other. Bowser has a lot beefier stats than Mario and Luigi, but also takes on tougher, larger foes. While there is some light platforming, I felt that combat was the main order of the day with him.

On the other hand, Mario and Luigi spend more of their time hopping on platforms and exploring the various nooks and crannies of their adversary's body. Though there's no shortage of combat opportunities for these two either, I think platforming makes up a bigger piece of the pie, with them gradually gaining a small arsenal of moves to help them reach various areas.

Combat works pretty much the same playing as either Bowser or Mario/Luigi, though the two still require different approaches. With Mario and Luigi, you have two characters to attack with, but unlike Bowser, who can actually just kick aside certain foes without needing to go into an actual combat sequence, they have to fight every scrub they touch. With Bowser it's often more about just whaling on the enemy with punches and fire. Since he has only two evasive moves at his disposal generally, compared to the various things you might have to do counter attacks as Mario and Luigi, I sometimes think there's less strategy involved.

Combat itself is enjoyable, and very much tuned to include the sort of things you'd expect from a Mario game. The battle menu, for example, is actually a bunch of rotating blocks that you headbutt to select.

Though battles are turn-based, this is an action-RPG. Each attack you make can be either strengthened or completely fall flat, depending on your timing. Every enemy also has their own unique attack, and with it comes a way to dodge that attack and, in many cases, counter it. A person with lightning reflexes and great analytical abilities could walk away from any battle in this game completely unscathed. But for the rest of us, success comes from carefully studying the enemy's movements (they always do something distinctive that indicates their target and what they will do), and memorizing them. And thus, interestingly enough, this is an RPG where practice can get you way farther than stat buffing or better equipment would, though both of these still help a lot.

As you explore, you'll also be able to find new special attacks, many of which are surprisingly humorous. My favorite so far involves Luigi pouncing on enemies with a gigantic pink bouncy ball, with you using certain buttons to make sure he keeps bouncing, and to keep him balanced. Special attacks and minigames, however, make up the only portion of the game that involves the stylus. Which isn't a bad thing. In fact, these parts of the game are at best decent, really.

Overall, can't say I have much to say against Bowser's Inside Story. It's simply a well done game. 9.o/10

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Army of Two

In Army of Two, co-op isn't just a bullet point on the list, or even a separate, albeit full-featured mode. It's the game. At least, that's what the line folks at EA are using to pull in buyers of their new IP.

Army of Two is a good reason why I've been paying more attention to EA lately. In the past year or two they've been putting out a lot of surprisingly creative titles, from the 1st-person action adventure Mirror's Edge to the horrific 3rd person hit, Dead Space. And then there's Army of Two, another game coming out of left-field from EA, and they don't seem to be showing any sign of stopping their new direction. Which is good.

Co-op has become a very common feature in third person shooters. And with good reason. Flanking enemies with a buddy, or taking up a distant sniping position as you cover comrade(s)'s advance from cover to cover is simply exhilarating. Somehow, co-op in third person games always feels more involved than co-op in first person games.

Army of Two clears up a bit of the fog surrounding reasons why this is so by introducing a few handy elements of teamwork, such as giving your partner a leg up, going back to back, or dragging him/her to safety when they're downed. This game makes it clear from the get go that for a variety of reasons, this is in no way an experience where you two can just go your separate ways, meeting only to open a door that for some reason requires two buttons pressed near simultaneously to open. I played through the game with my sister on the lowest difficulty, Recruit, and found that in the latter half of the game, this supposedly easiest difficulty felt more like medium-hard. Several times I found myself realizing that a certain situation would be so much easier if tackled as a tightly coordinated team. What I'm getting at is, this is a game that demands teamwork, even on the lowest difficulty. Not just in getting past doors and obstacles, but in regular combat as well. United We Stand, Divided We Fall.

The most outstanding method the game uses to encourage partner communication is the Aggro system, represented by a red and black meter. Whenever you fire a weapon or take someone out, the meter tips towards your side of the screen. The more Aggro you have, the more attention you'll suck up. On the bad side, this means that you will have pretty much every person in range gunning for you, but this also means they won't be paying attention to your partner, who has become all but invisible. The main benefit to this as that it allows for some pretty flawless flanking maneuvers, for those enemies who have a near impenetrable front defense, but a squishy backside. When the Aggro scale tips completely towards one end or the the other, you have the option of going into an adrenaline mode that gives you infinite ammo and all the aggro, and makes your partner completely invisible, for 10-15 seconds. you can also affect your aggro meter drastically by feigning death, an option that becomes available when you are about to die (though it only works once in a while). Understandably, doing this instantly maxes out your partner's aggro, and makes you invisible.

Other teamwork options encourage coordinated or co-op attacks. For example, when you are downed, your partner doesn't have to heal you on the spot. He can grab you and haul you to somewhere safer. In the meantime, you can cover both of you by picking off pursuing adversaries before they can KO your buddy. It's a great mechanic, and works well. And then there's back to back shooting, where you land in an area and find yourself surrounded, and have to take out people as they rush in from all sides. Moving on, there's also co-op sniping, which helps you two take out two people at once from afar, and two man parachuting, where one man steers, and the other snipes.

Overall, the co-op was done pretty well, and I was impressed. The actual shooting gameplay is also solid, though it's a bit clumsy at close range. (I've missed with a shotgun at point blank range more times than I can count). Another small peeve I have with the controls is the fact that melee attacks are mapped to the same button as gun attacks. The game automatically allows you physically attack enemies when you are right next them, but it's sometimes too slow to recognize that I should pistol whipping my target, not shooting him in the face.

Army of Two also has way too much loading and/or fancy menu effects going on. Maybe this is just a matter of opinion, but I felt like it was a serious chore to have to wait 2-3 seconds after each menu choice I made, before I'd see results. It was even worse in the weapon menu, where you had a wait several seconds every time you wanted to see a selection of weapons. The game also apparently doesn't cache the map you're playing on, because if you die you get to wait about 20 seconds while the game loads all over again. And if you happened to die right after a cutscene, you have to watch it over again. Checkpoint frequency was never a huge issue, though, so this only became a glaring nuisance once or twice.

Speaking of weapons, Army of Two has quite a few of them. Rios and Salem (the two playable characters) have a large arsenal of gear and guns available to them, albeit for a price. You'll always carry four weapon types: A primary weapon (usually an assault rifle or shotgun), a sidearm (a pistol or submachine gun), a sniper rifle/special weapon (special as in rocket launchers), and grenades. For most of the guns there's a decently large amount of room for customization for each weapon. There's options to change the stock, barrel, add a silencer or different cartridge..and of course the mandatory "pimped" paint job. I'll let you think about what that might mean.

It feels a little weird having waited this long to talk about the characters and story, but that's probably because the co-op is more important than they are. The game follows the two mercenaries Rios and Salem, who are good partners and tight buddies. They work alongside Alice Murray in a PMC, taking on various jobs and hits for money. However, they are betrayed by the higher ups in the company, and you play them as they unravel the question of who framed them, and why. Neither the plot nor characters were very interesting to me, though, and seem to serve solely as a way to move the game forward.

The graphics in Army of Two are pretty good, though a lot of objects have a strangely bright shine to them. The music is largely forgettable, and the amount of swearing going on kind of bars you from getting into the experience sometimes.

Overall, Army of Two is an interesting endeavor. The gameplay was done pretty well, but the presentation could of used some ironing out. 7/10

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tough Love: PSP Go

It saddens me to see a great concept implemented so poorly. In this case, Sony had a real awesome idea on their hands, but fell flat on their faces trying to implement it.

For the uninformed, here's the lowdown: the PSP Go is an alternative to the regular PSP3000. Sony is promoting a dual platform, so that the two can live on the shelves in harmony, and thus the PSP Go isn't necessarily better than the PSP, just different. Besides the form factor, it differs from the regular PSP by swapping out the UMD drive for 16GB of flash memory, and Bluetooth. The lack of the UMD drive makes it lighter, and probably smaller as well.

Without a UMD drive, how do you play games? You download them of course! Yep, that's right. The PSP Go relies entirely on Sony's Playstation Network digital distribution marketplace to obtain content. It is "portable" defined.

Sounds, awesome, right? Having several full length games that you can switch between on the fly without having to fumble with discs? Oh, it is. But besides how sexy it looks, the PSP Go's portability is probably one of the only good things it has going for it. Indeed, I can't imagine Sony really selling many Go's at all, because I can't imagine why anyone would want one. Let's go through the reasons why.

No plans for UMD conversion; Sony initially announced that they were considering a way for current PSP owners to trade in their UMD copies for digital ones. It was recently announced that they scrapped whatever plan they might have had. Also recently, it was announced that Sony had thought of a little something for the UK. Buyers of a Go can activate up 3 of certain UMDs they might have as legitimate downloads. So you can only take 3 of your games with you onto the Go. It's better than nothing, like what SCEA's doing, but it's still not satisfactory, given the premium they're asking for one these systems. Which brings me to my next problem.

$250 Price tag; Besides the fact that it's just plain expensive, here's the problem with this. It's only $50 less than the PS3. For just $50 more consumers could grab a PS3 instead, which has Bluray, a harddrive several times bigger, a far healthier game library, and....seriously, do I really need to prove to you why it's stupid that the PSP Go is almost as expensive as a PS3? On the other hand, it's also $80 more than the PSP3000, which is compatible both with digital content and UMDs. You're getting less content, for more money. So let's say you've never bought a PSP before, have no UMDs to get mad about. Why would you buy the PSP Go over the PSP3000? I can't think of a valid answer besides the reason trendy Mac users use: It's sexy.

802.11b; Yeah, you read correctly. This system is confined to 802.11b wireless signals. The same system that relies entirely on giant 1GB+ downloadable games. To hell with that. To be fair, it is possible that you could do all downloading on PS3 or PC, and then just sync it over periodically, like the relationship iPods and iTunes have. But it's still absurd that for $80 more, Sony couldn't give us at LEAST a G-type signal, if not N. Really guys? People call Apple overpriced, but for $50 less they've got 802.11G on the iPod Touch. This is inexcusable.

Game availability; I'll give Sony partial credit for this one, because they are making an effort to ensure that at least a very large majority of the PSP library becomes available as digital content on the Playstation Store. Just last week, they added nearly 100 titles to the already fairly sizable library of PSP games available on the storefront. If they want to sell any significant amount of systems at all, they'll add another 100 this week. But the fact is, it's probable that not all games are going to be available digitally. This means the chance constantly exists that PSP Go owners will miss out on some big, awesome game. In fact, it's already happened. Dissidia Final Fantasy isn't available on the PS Store. I looked, the demo's there, but the full game's not. PSP Go owners have no way of playing this game.

PSP Minis; With introduction of the Go, Sony also revealed their plans for a new game section, called PSP Minis, which would cater to "bite sized" games less than 100mb in size. This is no doubt an attempt to replicate Apple's success with the App Store, but there's a problem. There isn't a single game in that section selling for under $5. I've heard that Sony simply doesn't allow them to set the prices lower than that, which I hope isn't true, because it's foolish. The App Store took off because of the overwhelming high number of quality games selling for $0.99 a pop. You could hop onto the App Store from your iPhone or iPod Touch and grab a surprisingly great game for dirt cheap. That ain't happening with PSP Minis. This might not be so bad if developers actually made their games worth the price, but so far this hasn't appeared to be the case. Tetris is on there, selling for $10. This is a 25 year old game, there's nothing new about it. And it's the most expensive Mini in the section. When I can buy full length PSone games like Final Fantasy 7 for the same (or less) price as Tetris, we have a serious problem.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take a genius to see that the PSP Go is, in almost no way, worth it's price tag. Technophiles will eat it up just fine, but anyone actually wanting to get some use out of the thing will probably find the 3000 (or even the DSi/Lite) a fine alternative. Current PSP owners and people seeking value in their purchases need not apply.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beyond Good and Evil

Beyond Good and Evil is one of those games where you're not quite sure what to expect as you pop the disc in, but find yourself pleasantly surprised by what you discover. It's not a God tier title, but at least above average in nearly every way.

BGE hits the ground running, with the opening cutscene introducing you main character Jade, who is sitting outside meditating when the area is invaded by the mysterious DomZ. Little is known about these aliens, but the Alpha Sections (the planet's paramilitary army) have been at war with them for quite some time in an attempt to protect Hillys (the name of the planet the game takes place on).

The DomZ attack Jade's lighthouse home, kidnapping several children. The first gameplay segment has you taking up a nearby stick to fend off as many DomZ as you can in an attempt to get the children back. Jade herself temporarily falls prey to the DomZ until her adoptive uncle Pey'J comes to the rescue with her Bo Staff.

Conveniently, it isn't until immediately after the DomZ have left that the Alpha Section troops arrive to take all the credit and press. It's Jade and Pey'J's intense suspicion of them (moreso Pey'J's) that leads them to be scouted by IRIS, a rebel organization that has been investigating the Alpha Sections, attempting to reveal them to be the swindlers they think they are.

Really, the world of BGE is a somewhat bleak one, as the cover art might imply. Despite the constant Alpha Section propaganda stating that they're trying their hardest to beat back the invasion, everytime the DomZ attack, more people die. People seem to also be disappearing on a regular basis. It's obvious that the Alpha Section has some secrets, and the game goes out of its way to hint at an overarching conspiracy.

Even under such circumstances, BGE manages to be surprisingly humorous, especially in the first half of the game. Like in the very beginning of the game, Jade attempts to turn on the lighthouse's shield to stop the attack, but the electric company has cut their power, even under the given extenuating circumstances. And of course there's Pey'J's jet boots, powered by a highly compressed pack of methane. In other words, fart-powered boots.

Though the game's main plot hook/twist (the conspiracy theory) was guessable from a mile away, BGE still keeps a few aces under it's sleeve (like who the leader of IRIS is).

Though Beyond Good and Evil isn't a very long game, it packs in a satisfying amount of really fun and challenging gameplay. As Jade, you'll use your camera, natural agility, and bo staff (among other gadgets and abilities) to fight and sneak your way through various Alpha Section facilities in an attempt to expose the truth. When you're not snooping in the Alpha Sections' business, you can engage in a couple minigames in the Downtown district. There's even a small kart racing segment that actually ties into the infiltration of one of the Alpha Section facilities.

The fighting is fairly simplistic, with Jade being able to execute a variety of moves depending on how time each button input. As simplistic as this is, it's interesting because it challenges you stay calm even when enemies are swarming you (and they will, multiple times), and remember to continue timing each attack (button mashing will only dish out 3 hit combos, which feels like a way of punishing those who panic easily). It reminded me of the very first scene in the game where Jade was meditating.

Sneaking is a bit more challenging, but it's entirely about evading enemies. Though you can take them with some careful planning and execution (depending on the area), Jade doesn't have any special grabs or choke holds to put enemies to sleep and such. Don't expect Metal Gear or Splinter Cell-like stealth here. It's more in the vein of Sly Cooper. It does get progressively more difficult though, with missteps becoming more and more of a punishable offense as you proceed through the game.

Call me arrogant, but at this point I sometimes have trouble returning to last generation games, because of how incredibly bland their visuals are in comparison. Beyond Good and Evil, however, looks great. Its graphics are colorful and easy on the eyes, and aside from some impossibly violent waters in some docking areas (maybe it has to do with the fact I played it on PS3), runs very smoothly. The music is a mix of catchy beats with nonsensical lyrics and very emotional themes that make your spine tingle.

Overall, this is a great game that apparently didn't get the attention it deserved. Admittedly, the story is a tad on the shorter side of the scale in length, and besides collecting all the pearls (currency for upgrading your vehicles), there doesn't seem to be much incentive to come back. But this is definitely a game worth your time. 8/10

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Games I'm Looking Forward To #2

I try to do this once every ~6 months. I swear, great new games seem to be popping up by the dozens. What I've noticed however, is that a LOT of games previously slated for a Holiday '09 release were pushed to a later date, most commonly Spring '10. Most think this has a lot to do with the impending release of Modern Warfare 2, and I don't blame them. That's a game that will inevitably sell "Halo 3-well", and probably be the biggest release of the year. So I can't blame publishers for feeling a bit intimidated. Ironically however, like I mentioned before, most of the games fled to the same release window, and are now threatened by Gran Turismo 5, God of War 3, and Final Fantasy 13, all three of which are almost guaranteed to top the sales charts when they release. Nice, guys. At this rate I wouldn't be surprised if they simply pushed the games again to summer or early fall. Perhaps what publishers need to understand is that there's really no escape. I'm not sure why, but good games are coming out by the boatload at this point in the current generation. I hear Square-Enix is juggling at least 5 games (or is planning to) at the moment, and other houses like EA, Capcom and Ubisoft are chugging along with fervor as well. The market is going to be at least a little crowded, so all that can be done to avoid losing out financially is to make sure the game is actually good, and for Christ's sake, advertise it! Even the best games will fall flat on the sales charts if nobody knows about them (See: Valkyria Chronicles).

Anyway, let's get this going.

Playstation 3
-Assassin's Creed 2; Ever since I played Batman Arkham Asylum I've found myself paying more and more attention to Assassin's Creed 2. The two share a few gameplay concepts, and frankly I can't wait to get my hands on it.
-Uncharted 2; This is promising to be a complete package in a vein similar to Resistance 2; A full-featured singleplayer campaign, with competent multiplayer and co-op to boot.
-Star Ocean: The Last Hope International; Yep, it's been announced for PS3, and it's coming early this February. Hopefully the story won't be as prone to being sidetracked as Till the End of Time.
-Modnation Racers; Mario Kart+LittleBigPlanet=Modnation Racers. It's that simple.
-Borderlands; It's a little like Diablo, except instead of fantasy, magic and medieval weaponry, you have FPS action, a desert wasteland, and 4 player Co-Op.
-Demon's Souls; This has actually been out for quite some time in Japan and other Asian countries (with English vocals to boot!), but I decided to wait. It seems Atlus knew there would people like me, and is thus including some swag with their localized version. The game is praised both for it's old-school hardcore difficulty, and for its simple addictiveness. I haven't played it at all, but besides the difficulty (which has been rationalized by some), I've heard nothing but good stuff about it.
-Dead Nation; This is a zombie dual-stick shooter that came from the people behind Super Stardust HD, a game very close to my heart. It'll have two-player co-op, and an interesting metagame. I wish Housemarque would give us some sort of release timeframe, so I can decide whether I'll be able to get it for Christmas.
-PixelJunk Shooter; I'm intrigued at how subtle, yet totally impressive this game feels. Plus it'll have co-op, which I'm a sucker for.
-Castle Crashers; I love this game just from the videos I've seen from it. I have an innate feeling that this game will simply be great, and there will be little reason to read reviews first. Plus, it has 4 player multiplayer! How bad can it be?
-Tales of Vesperia; Still no word on if this game is even getting localized, but I sure hope so. Otherwise I'll have to just continue being satisfied with Tales of the Abyss.
-The Last Guardian; People know very little about this game, but they already love it anyway. I am among those people.
-3D Dot Game Heroes; It is, for all intents and purposes, a clone of the old 2D top-down Zelda games, except that each pixel is instead a 3D cube. It's wierd and difficult to explain, but an awesome concept. You really need to see a video or two before the visual style begins to dawn on you.
-Front Mission Evolved; I'm not holding my breath for this one. Mech games have an innate tendency to not be so great, which is kind of ridiculous, because who doesn't want to duke it out and unleash beam spam and Macross Missile Massacres(TM) in big friggin robots? I want this to be good, don't get me wrong. But too many mech games have disappointed for me to get my hopes up just yet.
-Resonance of Fate; This game is beautiful. Really. It still sucks that they couldn't keep the original, more..original name (End of Eternity), but it's still got some uniqueness going for it. I saw a full battle once, and I have mixed feelings. I'm hoping that was a boss battle, because it took forever. The characters flipping around doing ridiculous stunts and acrobatics while squeezing off dozens of bullets was awesome at first, but got to be repetitive eventually.
-Final Fantasy Versus 13; Yep, still have looking forward to this one. Hopefully SE will have more info on it soon.
-Heavy Rain; I'm a bit worried for Heavy Rain. It's a new IP, and overall a risky concept that's suddenly found it's release date bogged down by a whole lot of other big games. I will probably buy it, because I love the replay value potential, but I hope it doesn't get flattened by its competitors.
-Lost Planet 2; The demo was all sorts of fun, especially with a full 4 player party. I think I will probably buy it if they manage to work in splitscreen, but if they don't...we'll see. I like graphics, and love the mechs and enemies, and of course the multiplayer, but I still have trouble seeing this as worth the full $60 price tag.
-Darksiders; It's Zelda, with a brutal God of War-like twist on the combat. Will it be good? We'll see.
-Army of Two: The 40th Day; As of this writing I'm currently playing through the original Army of Two. I'm undecided whether a game like this is worth the full price tag, but it's not out of the question.

-The Grinder; I like High Voltage and all, but they are really bad at keeping their fans informed about the games they're working on. They talked up the Grinder a few months ago, then went completely off the radar about it.
-Animales de la Muertes; Another High Voltage game that might as well have been scrapped, for all I know about it. Animales de la Muertes (is that it? can't fully remember the name) was announced what feels like at least a year ago, but we've heard nothing about it. It's just a WiiWare game! How long could it possibly take to develop?
-Metroid: The Other M; Given how badass Samus is, I'm honestly surprised something like this hasn't been done before. Team Ninja (the dudes behind Ninja Gaiden) are co-developing, so I have no doubt this game will have no shortage of awesome alien pwnage.
-Red Steel 2; I have mild hopes for this game. I remember reading about the first Red Steel in Nintendo Power. God that game sounded so ridiculously awesome, and the concept it boasted was one of the reasons I bought a Wii. But then I played it. The game wasn't horrible, but I was sorely disappointed. Maybe with Motion+, Red Steel 2 will deliver.

-Pokemon Heartgold/SoulSilver; I'm fully aware this a blatant attempt to continue milking the franchise that is Pokemon. But I don't care, because you know what? I had the original Gold for Gameboy Color, and that thing quit on me. I loved that game to tears, so I will buy this for nostalgia and because I love Johto's pokemon.

-Guild Wars 2; Fuck you, subscription fees. Why should I buy a game, and only get to play it for a month before I have to continue paying for it? No, to hell with that.
-Kingdom Under Fire 2; This is probably going to be a Games for Windows Live game, which will deter me from buying it. But I know one thing; If hacking n' slashing random dudes in the middle of a crowded battlefield isn't awesome, I might not be sure what is.

There you have it. The list of games I'm looking forward to most at this point in time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Terminator Salvation

As any gamer knows, movie games are bad. Generally speaking, movie games tend to be a piece of crap. And it's not always because the developers didn't put in an effort. Sometimes it's lack of funding, or a fairly miniscule time frame granted for development. But the fact is, games of this category rarely turn out to be good.

Terminator Salvation is, unfortunately, not too different in this respect. It does have some redeeming values, but is ultimately just decent. In fact, given the amount of content in the game, I would say Salvation would have been better if it had been a PSN game.

I say that because there's really not that much variety in the game. Not counting the occasional mounted turret, there's only 5 weapons in this game, and only 4 regular enemy types. And though the game put's a spin on the situation and environment, you essentially do the same thing over and over again.

That is, you walk into an area with lots of cover, get ambushed, beat the machines, continue on for about 30 seconds, then do the same thing over and over again. This makes up pretty much the entire game, though it is broken up by occasional rail shooting segments.

That's not to say the game is horrible. It is a mildly fun experience, if you enjoy 3rd person shooters. Like most current gen third person shooters (i.e. Uncharted, Gears of War, Rainbow Six Vegas), you won't last very long in battle if you don't learn to spend most of your time behind cover (especially since your character apparently lacks the ability to roll or crouch independently). The game has a cover system similar to Wanted and Gears of War 2, where you can run directly to another piece of cover quickly and efficiently, useful for flanking enemies. However, I do have a problem with the system. For a game that relies so heavily on cover and does not give you the ability to manually crouch, you would assume the developers made an effort to make sure you could "stick" to every wall or object that could possibly serve as cover. While this is true to an extent, I still found myself dying more than once simply because I ran to an object expecting to be able to use at as cover, but ended up simply standing there taking bullets as the game refused to recognize that as a cover spot. As a result, flanking enemies (a vital tactic, since two of the four enemy types are difficult to take head on) is occasionally more difficult than it needs to be.

The game is also pretty short, and to further cement that I think it would have been better suited as a PSN title, get this; it only has 12 trophies. Twelve. Granted, they're ALL golds (except the Platinum), but still. Yep, you could walk away with a gold trophy just for beating the first level of the game. I got the Platinum in a single evening, beating the game a single time on Hard. So for you trophy hunters out there, here's a gem. Hard isn't actually that hard as long as you plan your attacks. There are some parts that are frustrating, but the game never felt impossible.

One final redeeming quality of the game is that it does have local co-op. So you can make the experience a bit easier with a buddy by your side. Besides that, however, there is no reason whatsoever to return to the game once you beat it the first time, since there are no extras to unlock, and you're guaranteed to have gotten 95% of the trophies on your first playthrough. 5.5/10.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

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

New Computer!

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.

Other stuff:

-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.

Graphics Card

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!

Disc Drive

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.

Power Supply

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.

Wi-Fi Card

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.

Operating System

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.