Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The year for the PS3?

I just realized that my three favorite games so far this year have all been on the PS3.  Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2 and Demon's Souls.  Hell, you can even throw inFAMOUS and MLB: The Show in there.  And Killzone?  Sure it wasn't the best game ever, but it was fun.
Fine, Batman is not exclusive, but still, all the others are.  I've actually spent a ton of time gaming on the PS3 this year and its been fantastic.
Of course, all that PS3 gaming ends on 11/10/09 (and really that's only because I'm going with the 360 version of MW2 for obvious reasons)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Seriously . . . wow . . .

Even though Demon's Souls is still taking up 75% of my gaming time, the other 25% has been going to Uncharted 2.  Sorry Operation Flashpoint, you're way in the back burner for now.
I've actually advanced quite a bit in Uncharted 2 and am towards the end of the game (as far as I can tell anyway).  I have lots of impressions to give, but this post is just for the game's visuals, because I do feel they deserve special mention.
Seriously, WTF?!  How is it that my PS3 hasn't melted trying to churn out these visuals?  This is hands down the best looking video game I have ever seen.  Half of my playing time is me just staring at the screen in awe, jaw open, drool dripping down my chin.
The game is extremely vibrant and colorful.  Its lighting engine is simply fantastic.  Probably the most realistic sunlight I have seen in a game.  The textures and detail are unbelievable too.  Every corner of the game world looks as if the designers planned for that section to be the center of attention, yet it could be an area you might spent less than 10 seconds in or skip altogether.  The geometry, physics, lighting, textures, animation, this game it the total visual package.
Someone give Naughty Dog a medal for technical achievement.  No seriously.
There's a section in the game where Drake is taking a leisurely stroll through a village.  This section has no enemies.  You can't sprint.  You just walk around and take in the scenery.  And it has been one of my favorite moments in the game.  The detail in the village, the vibrant sunlight, the beautiful colors, the mountains in the background, the villagers going about their day, kids playing, men working, seriously, it was a work of art.
I'll post actual impressions on the game when I finish it.  So far, it has been a really exciting ride, although it is not perfect.  But well worth the price of admission.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Demon's Souls

Uncharted 2 is great.  It is a lot of fun, looks absolutely gorgeous, and the production values are through the roof.  But for the last 3 nights, I haven't been going to bed at 2am because of Uncharted.  No, that is all Demon's Souls' fault.
This game is like crack.  It has excellent design all around and it is because of those off-kilter design choices that I think the game excels.  These days, some of those choices might seem terrible, but without them this game wouldn't be nearly as good.
The game seems to do all it can to make you hate it.  It is hard.  A lot harder than what gamers are used to today.  No save anywhere feature, no check points, no "retrys", no pause option (damn you), if you die fighting a level's boss you start all the way at the beginning of the level and all the enemies respawn.  Oh yeah, if you were in human form when you died you now start in "phantom" form and your hit points are reduced by half.  You also lose all the souls you had collected upon death.  And souls are the game's most precious commodity.  They serves as the game's currency and also as experience points which you use to level up your character.  So losing maybe an hour's worth of soul collecting (you get souls from every defeated enemy) can be down right aggravating.  You do get to keep all the items you found though.  And all is not lost, for if you brave the dangers ahead and fight your way through the level again and make it back to the spot where you died, you will find your blood stain along with all your souls waiting for you.  However, if you die again before reclaiming those souls, they disappear and are gone forever.
Doesn't all that sound like fun?  No of course not.  But it is.  It is.
Because of the harsh penalties associated with death, you actually fear it.  You have to think about every action you do and every enemy you decide to engage in combat, because even the most common enemy can kill you if you are not concentrated on the battle, or you underestimate its skill (or overestimate yours).  That is pretty refreshing in this day and age, when dying in a game is more of an annoyance with no real consequence.  In Demon's Souls, it is unbelievably tense when you are trying to make it back to the spot where you died to reclaim your souls.  You know that if you die again, you will lose them all.  I've retreated and planned attacks on even the most low level enemies because the thought of dying and forever losing those souls is not an option.
The game has a fair amount of depth as well.  Weapons and armor can be upgraded by combining different shards of ore you find in the land.  Combat is also beyond a simple button mashing affair.  In fact, button mashing will get you killed in seconds.  A good defense is the key to fighting, as often blocking or dodging attacks and then counter-attacking is the much safer route.  Players cannot just sit back and block however, as absorbing blows depletes your stamina bar (as does attacking or sprinting), so combat is a tactical mix of blocking, attacking, and keeping an eye on your stamina.  It all comes together beautifully.  You can equip two weapons per hand and switch between all of them freely, and since certain enemies are weaker against certain types of weapons, there's a great amount of strategy involved in combat.  I have yet to learn my first magic spell, so I can't comment on that aspect of combat.
On a technical level, the game is very solid.  Character models look good and animate smoothly.  Enemy models can look downright impressive, including massive bosses or demons.  It is always impressive to emerge from a castle and see two giant dragons perched on the hillside a few hundred yards away.  The game is very dark and you'll spend a lot of time in dimly lit dungeons and hallways.  It adds greatly to the mood, even if it won't make your jaw drop with visual splendor.  I haven't encountered too many "wow" moments in the visual department, but nothing has taken me out of my experience because of shoddy visuals either.  Everything just comes together in a perfect package and I'm so absorbed while walking down these dark and dangerous corridors that I am not even thinking about the graphics.  And that is the sign of a game doing its job.
At this point I cannot recommend Demon's Souls enough, although I must say it is definitely not for everyone.  But it is absolutely up my alley.  As difficult as it can be, it is really up to the player how hard the experience is.  If you go in treating this like a hack n slash, or God of War, you will pay a steep price.  This game is not about fast paced combat, chaining together massive combos.  It is about using caution, studying your environment and enemies, and advancing every so slowly towards your goal.  I've been using this mindset for a while now and I have reduced my deaths by a significant margin.  For those that dedicate time to this title and play it the way it was meant to be played, a deeply satifying experience awaits.  Its a game that gives you a true sense of accomplishment for finishing - or even just surviving - its many challenges.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Uncharted 2 quick impressions

I picked up Uncharted 2 yesterday.  Played for about 2 - 3 hours.  Some quick impressions:
- Graphically, the game is utterly ridiculous.  I may have only seen a fraction of the full game at this point, but I am already giving it the "Best Looking Console Game of All Time" award.  The snow looks insane.  Drake's animation is uncanny.  Especially in the opening tutorial section.  I love games that have "wow" moments.  And this game has plenty of those.
- One thing I felt the original Uncharted did better than any other game, was make it feel like a fun, summer, adventure movie.  The cinematics and voice acting were fantastic.  And the dialog was playful and sharp.  Well, the sequel continues that and improves on it on all accounts.  I'm going to make another bold statement, Uncharted has the best voice acting of any videogame I've ever played.  The characters speak and interact very naturally.  The dialog is witty and genuinely funny.  The cinematics are fantastically "acted", with excellent motion-capture from the actual voice actors.  All elements come together to create a fantastic cinematic and immersing experience.  Great job Naughty Dog.
- Gameplay is typical Uncharted, with additional stealth elements thrown in.  At least, that's what I've experienced so far.  The levels and environments are huge, but there is a predefined path through them.  The platforming elements look cool, but you feel a bit disconnected from them.  Drake will be doing all kinds of crazy jumps, climbs, shimmys, etc., but all you'll be doing is pressing X as needed and holding a direction on the analog stick.  It all feels a little automatic, but so did the first game and traversing the environments is still fun.  Combat can get intense.  I haven't come across many puzzle elements yet.  Will post further gameplay impressions once I delve deeper into the campaign.
Overall though, the just screams quality and attention to detail.  This is definitely the game Sony can use to showcase what the PS3 can do.  Because technically, it is phenominal.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I want to pause!!!

In a perplexing design decision, there is no way to pause Demon's Souls.  Pressing the start button brings up your game menu, but the action continues in the background.
That is odd.
It keeps things tense and realistic in the heat of battle.  And it is not too much of an issue because of how the game is designed.  If you are in an area where there are no enemies, you don't really need to worry about getting attacked, since enemies don't just wander around the levels (as far as I can tell), they stick to their general locations.  So, if you need to go to the restroom, as long as you've cleared the room of enemies, feel free to leave your character standing there and go.
However, there are times when you just need to pause the game.  If you are in battle or fighting a boss, and the phone rings, or someone knocks on your door, or whatever the reason, you should be able to pause the action.
I am assuming the lack of pausing is to prevent "cheating".  In this game there is no "retry" option.  If you die, you lose all your souls and you respawn at the beginning of the level.  If you can make it back to your point of death you can reclaim your souls, no real harm done.  BUT, if you die a second time before getting your souls back, you lose them forever.  That is tough.  And harsh.  And one reason why this game is so brilliant and fun.  You really do fear death, because you cannot avoid it.  If you die, the game saves, and you respawn.  No multiple save files that you can upload from 5 minutes before.  It really makes you pay for your actions.  If you see a far off enemy that looks tough, you really have to think long and hard about going to try and fight him.  Because if it kills you, you cannot just load to just before the fight and decide not to engage him.
If you could pause the action, players would be able to pause the game just before they died if they were in a bad spot and things were looking grim, press the PS button, exit the game to the XMB, and they could avoid dying and possibly losing all the souls they had.  So, I see why the developer removed the pause option.
But still, like I said, for players that want to play the game legitimately (like me), sometimes I just want to pause the damn game!
They could have done something like with Animal Crossing.  If you just abruptly exit Animal Crossing, the game knows this and when you load it up the next time, you get a warning.  Keep doing it and you get penalized.  Sure, that sucks if you have a lot of power outages, but I'm just thinking out loud here.  I want a pause button!!!
Anyway, small gripe to a brilliant game.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We suck

Man, Gabe and I are terrible bloggers.  We create a whole new blog to commemorate our trip to PAX, we promise "from the floor" coverage, impressions, photos . . . and here we are, over a month after PAX, and nothing.  Just one initial post promising all those things.
We definitely suck.
In our defense, we've both been extremely busy lately.  I've been super swamped at work.  I've also started going back to the gym, so by the time I get home, take a shower, cook, eat, I then have a choice between getting on the computer and typing or getting some game time in.  I've been choosing the latter.  So while I haven't been blogging, I have lots of material to blog about, since I haven't stopped playing.
Here's what I've been playing:
CoD4 - Of course.  Getting ready for MW2.
Madden 2010 - Best Madden this generation, but still flawed and broken.
Batman Arkham Asylum (PS3) - Simply fantastic!  A top candidate for GOTY.  I'm upset I haven't been able to post impressions, because I had an absolute blast with it and it might just be the best licensed game I have ever played.  Hands down the best comic book game ever created.
Halo: ODST - I really enjoyed the single-player campaign.  Similar, yet different, from previous Halo games.  I haven't been able to try Firefight mode since it does not support match-making, only private games with friends.  Overall, fun game, but I think Microsoft did the fans wrong by being greedy and releasing this game at full price.  This should be no more than $39.99.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (360) - This is a game for fans of the original Ghost Recon games.  Not the GRAW games, but the original ones that were far more tactical and slower paced.  It goes for realism and the result is a game that is not for everyone.  No running and gunning here.  So far I've only played a handful of missions and I am enjoying it.  I like the slower pace and the open environments, and traversing the terrain to your objectives is fun for me, even though you are basically just hiking many kilometers with not much going on.  Team-mate A.I. is a little flaky so far.  Wish I had three friends to play this with, since that will remove that frustration with the game.
Demon's Souls - Just started playing this yesterday.  Oh wow.  I think I am hooked.  As all the reviews have said, the game is hard.  Brutally hard.  But not in a cheap way.  After just 2 hours it is one of my favorite games this year.  And it looks like it will only get better as I progress.  Another candidate for GOTY.
So that's what I've been playing.  Since at this point a detailed PAX post will be moot, I'll probably just post all of the pictures I took and give my overall impressions of the show.
Oh and speaking of GOTY candidates, Uncharted 2 comes out tomorrow.  Wow, Demon's Souls and Uncharted will be fighting for my attention (sorry Operation Flashpoint, you might be taking a back seat for a while).