Monday, February 22, 2010


Back in the day, I was a huge comic book fan.  I still have boxes of them in my old room at my dad's house.  Towards the end of my comic book run, the very last series I began to collect was Battle Chasers.  I was actually done with comics when Battle Chasers came out, but once I saw my friend's copy of the first issue, I was back in.  I absolutely LOVE Joe Madureira's art style.  Especially his take on fantasy.  So Battle Chasers was right up my alley.
Of course Battle Chasers had a troubled history.  It would take months for the issues to come out and eventually, it just died off, ending after only 9 issues.  Apparently Joe was busy with other things.  Like breaking into the videogame business.
Well, fast forward to today and Joe is the creative director to Darksiders, which I picked up on Saturday, partly because I played the game at PAX and enjoyed it, partly because I love Joe Mad's art, but mostly because it comes with a code that you can redeem for a free copy of Red Faction: Guerrilla.  That's right, each new copy comes with this lovely code.  Since I always meant to pick up Red Faction, this 2 for 1 deal was too good to pass up.  Besides, the reviews for Darksiders were solid.
So far, about 5 hours in, I am really enjoying the game.  I love it when I am pleasantly surprised by a game I was initially not very interested in (inFAMOUS being the last that I recall).  In fact, I am REALLY enjoying it.
A large portion of my enjoyment is coming from the art style.  Like I said, I freaking love Joe Mad's work.  All the character designs are right up my alley.  Visually, the game is great, although it doesn't impress so much on a technical level as it does on an artistic one.  If you break down the visuals, there are plenty of other game that look better, but the art style and especially the color pallette, is just superb.  The color scheme is bright and colorful, which I was not expecting given the post-apocalyptic theme.  But I am glad they went against the grain here.  The world is vibrant and alive.  The game does have a "cartoonish" look to it, which I know some people don't enjoy (they want a darker, more realistic look), but like I said, I love Joe Mad's style and I think it suits the game just fine.  In fact, the visuals remind me a lot of the Jak and Daxter games on the PS2.  Large areas, colorful visuals, and an animated feel to the characters.
Gameplay-wise, you cannot read a review that does not compare the game to Zelda.  It certainly does have a Zelda-feel to its design.  You acquire new items and power-ups which you then use to reach previously restricted areas.  You mostly acquire these in a "dungeon" and once acquired, you use it extensively to solve that dungeon's puzzles and to defeat its boss.  However, for some reason, the Zelda-influence is not beating me over the head like it has to others.  For sure Zelda was a huge inspiration, but it is not the only game it borrows from.  Combat borrows a bit from God of War, but only in that it is often times brutal in execution, and weakening enemies often trigger a "finishing move" you can activate by pressing a button (these are always done by just pressing that one button however, no elaborate QTE like in GoW).  Enemies drop souls of various color which you collect, but what game nowadays does not use some variation of this?
The game's controls took me a little while to get used to.  They feel great and everything is basically mapped where you would expect it to be, but sometimes you are required to hold down various buttons and triggers at the same time to do what you want and that can get confusing.
On the audio-side, voice acting is actually very good.  War himself has an appropriate somber delivery and the other characters (which mostly consist of demons) have their grunting, gargoling, ethereal voices down.  I haven't noticed the music much, which means it at least is not bad.  Sound effects are excellent however.  I've been playing with my headphones, and the clanging of blades, environmental ambient sounds, footsetps on different terrain, etc., all sound excellent.
I'm only 5 hours in, so I have plenty to discover and unlock, but so far, I have greatly enjoyed myself, and considering the free copy of Red Faction heading my way, this is actually one of the better purchases I've done in a while.

More Mass Effect . . .

I finished Mass Effect 2 a few nights ago.  Overall, I really enjoyed it.  It is better than the first one in almost everyday.  My total playtime was around 40 hours I believe.  I probably spent more time mining planets than I wanted.
Even though I clocked in over 40 hours, I felt like the main storyline was pretty brief and not as satisfying as the first game.  Looking back, you spend about 70% of the game recruiting your team and earning their "loyalty".  By the time your team is fully assembled and you take on the main quest, it is over in a heartbeat, and I found that disheartening.
The game's climax also wasn't as impressive as the first one's, in my opinion, although it was still plenty exciting.  I managed to finish the game without losing any teammates, since apparently you can lose multiple mates.  In fact, you can lose your entire time and even Shepard bites the dust if you make certain decisions, leaving Joker the sole survivor.  I find that very interesting and wonder how that will play our for the 3rd game.
I did enjoy the final mission, as you really have to assume command and make plenty of decisions about what to do and which teammates to send to do certain tasks.  I take it that this plays heavily into determining who survives, since choosing badly and sending someone not "qualified" for a certain job probably results in them not making it.  This is all just speculation on my point though.  Bottom line, that final missions was pretty cool and I wish there were more missions like that, where your entire team is involved.  I actually hope that all of ME3's main quest missions use a variation of this, since it makes more sense than 3 individuals going off and doing everything while the others are hanging out on the Normandy.
I want to do another playthrough, importing my new ME2 character, but I'm worried how that will affect my ME3 import.  I want to make sure all the decisions I made in this first playthrough are the ones to carry over to ME3, but I want to mess around in my 2nd playthrough and make some drastically different decisions to see how they play out.  Not sure how that will work.
Anyway, fantastic game.  I'd say early runner for GotY but it is only February, much to early to even be mentioning that.
Speaking of which, I've yet to name my GotY for 2009 . . .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mass Effect 2 impressions

I've had zero time the last few weeks for much of anything, aside from
work, sleep and family issues. I leave my house in the early morning
and get home late at night.

I've struggled to squeeze in time with ME2 when I can. Sure, it cuts
into my sleep time (and boy could I use sleep time), but it also helps
get my mind off things and is a much needed and appreciated escape. So
over the last two weeks I've managed to give about 20+ hours to the

My impressions so far are very positive. Leading up to this release I
began re-playing the original ME to polish up on the storyline. That
didn't work, and I just gave up a quarter of the way through, since I
started this endeavor just days prior to ME2's release and I ended up
with the shiny new copy of the sequel staring at me every time I booted
up the original. While those few hours with the original were still
enjoyable, on a technical level, the game didn't hold up as well. The
load times, stuttering and texture pop-in, are a much bigger deal now
than they were two years ago. And the combat mechanics feel even more
stiff and rough-around-the-edges. So I just read a quick plot synopsis
on-line, re-watched the game's finale on Youtube, and I was up-to-date
on the events of the first game (it all started coming back to me

Well, onto the sequel. First, importing my character from the 1st game
was a snap. I hear that some gamers who have multiple characters are
having problems choosing the one they want to import, but since I only
had one, the import process was a simple one. Since we're on the
subject, I will say that the way they implement your choices from the
original game is very impressive. There are the big main choices of
course, which I won't spoil here, but it seems like there are a ton of
other smaller choices that carry over behind the scenes. Very cool.

On a technical level, the game engine has come a long way. No more
texture pop-in or frame-rate drops. The character's facial animations
are also improved. Movement is also improved, as just walking around
feels better. Environments and lighting are impressive, although some
of the environments "scale" is not as grand as I would have liked. It
is not the prettiest game on the 360, but it does an admiral job
considering the game's scope.

The most noticeable improvement is combat. The game's action sequences
play out much better than the original and come very close to feeling
like a dedicated 3rd person shooter during these sections. The powers
and weapons wheels return, allowing you to pause the action and plan out
your attack, but the overall feel of combat is a vast improvement. Good
thing too, since this game seems to emphasize combat more that its

A few notable changes in the sequel:

- The galaxy map works slightly different this time around. When
viewing the map within a system, you move a small version of the
Normandy around to the planets you wish to view/visit, instead of just
having the cursor toggle between them. To plot a Mass Relay jump to
another system you just head over to the nearest Mass Effect Relay and
then choose your location. There are now some systems that do not have
a Relay in them, requiring you to travel to them from the nearest system
that does. When traveling in this manner you use fuel, which you need
to replenish. This is an odd addition. Probably added for an extra
layer of realism or stratedgy (if you run of of fuel you need to burn
valuable minerals to get to the nearest fuel station) but overall it
seems like a pointless addition. Doesn't hurt the game mind you, I just
find it kinda annoying to have to buy fuel.

- No more Mako missions (which had you traversing the barren surface of
planets in search of minerals and resources). Instead you scan planets
now from orbit, using a cursor you pass over the planet's surface. I
wasn't a big fan of the Mako sections in the first game (touchy controls
and pretty bland, empty environments), but I'm not a fan of this new
system either. It is VERY time consuming (that cursor is slow as
molasses, even with the scanner upgrade), tedious, and I just feel like
I am wasting time when I could be out on a mission instead. Can't
anyone else in the Normandy's crew be taking care of planet sanning
while I am off on a mission or sleeping in my quarters? Seriously
folks, I am trying to save the galaxy here.

- You now have to manage ammo for your weapons as well. They don't
fully explain this either, since there was an actual explanation for why
you never had to reload or worry about ammo in the first game. They do
mention something about heat-sinks, to prevent over-heating, and it
being based on Geth technology, but that doesn't make much sense. It
seems like a step back to me. In the original you had unlimited ammo,
you just had to manage your fire rate so that your gun wouldn't
overload. If it did overload, you had to wait a bit for it to cool
down. This "new" Geth technology is just the regular magazines with
ammo we're using nowadays. You run out of ammo, change clips, and keep
firing. Where is the damn Geth technology? If they just wanted to add
a reload mechanic so that it can feel more like a shooter, that's fine,
come up with the heat-sink idea as a way to make you reload, but why the
limited ammo now? It just doesn't fit with the universe established in
the first game (and even discussed in the novel).

- No more loooong elevator rides. We just get load screens now. At
least the load screens are related to what is currently hapening, shown
in some animated skematic form. Or something, hard to explain.

- The Citadel is a shade of what it once was. It is just a few floors
of shops now basically (the sections you're relegated too at least, the
Citadel itself is the same, you just can't explore it anymore). I guess
a lot of gamers complained about running around in the Citadel in the
first game, but I found it impressive. Oh well.

I'm getting tired of writing, so I'll stop now. So far I have greatly
enjoyed the game and can't wait to see where it takes me. So far I've
only been recruiting team members and those missions have been a lot of
fun. I can only imagine how much better it gets when the real story
gets going. Because the main quest in the original game was phenominal
and the final mission/battle/ending was absolutely epic! Can't wait!