Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

I'm a month late but I finally decided to try out the Trial version of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.  I had heard good things.
This game is a freakin' blast!  I had zero interest when it was anounced and the gameplay videos did absolutely nothing for me.  But boy is it fun to play!  I'm hoping it goes down in proce.  I'd buy it at 800 MS points.
If you haven't tried it yet, give it a go.

Bioshock: Infinite "Gameplay" trailer

Available on the Xbox Marketplace.  Maybe the PS Store too, I haven't turned on my PS3 in a while.  And I'm sure also available on every single videogame website out there.
Granted, the video itself is heavily scripted.  Chances are it is also running on high-end PC hardware and the console versions won't look that good.  And given its scripted nature, the game's actual gameplay won't flow anywhere near as seamless and impressive as that video.
But again.  Wow.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Halo: Reach Legendary run . . .

I'm 3/4 of the way through the game on Legendary and like always it can be brutal at times, but it is the most fun you can have with the single-player game if you have the patience.  Some sections are extremely tough and can lead to frustration, but you get a huge sense of accomplishment once you pass them.
Halo plays a completely different game on Legendary.  If you do not have cover or aren't proficient at getting quick head-shots, a small platoon of Grunts can kill you.  Your shields are fully depleted after just a few hits of an energy weapon and one melee hit from an Elite will take you out.  You have to plan your battles ahead of time and try different strategies when one fails.
One thing I really enjoy about Legendary difficulty is that it really makes you manage your weapons, ammo, and you need to plan ahead of your current battle.  You'll often find yourself scavenging the battlefield for weapons, grenades, and mixing it up out of necessity.  It is much harder to stick with your favorite weapon the entire time, because chances are you are going to run out of ammo (I absolutely LOVE the DMR btw, my favorite weapon of the series).  As an example, on Heroic I rarely used the traditional Covenant plasma pistol.  I never had a need to.  On Legendary, with Elites having such powerful shields, the combination of a charged plasma shot to fully deplete shields followed quickly by a ballistic shot to the head, has become almost mandatory.  I've always found this particular combination satisfying to pull off, and it is one I practically did without during my entire Heroic run.
So far Legendary is once again the way to go.  I wouldn't recommend someone attempting it on their very first play through, since it can lead to moments of frustration, but in the overall fun department, when it shines, it takes the cake.
Once I'm done with Legendary, I hope to dedicate some time to Firefight.  I've also played about 4 -5 online matches and they've been standard Halo.  I'm not hooked on it, but it is a nice diversion from the single-player when I need a break.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Halo: Reach impressions

Picked up Reach on Tuesday and finished the campaign on Heroic yesterday.  Not sure how long it took me, but I put in a good amount of time into it the last two days.  Still, not the longest single-player out there.  Overall impressions:
- At its core, it plays like Halo.  I mean, it is Halo.  The special abilities do add a wrinkle to the formula, with the jet-pack changing up the gameplay the most by far.  I actually wish there were more sections that encouraged jet-pack use.  I also think that sprint should be a default action.  These are Spartans.  I'm pretty sure they can sprint without the need of a "special ability".  I don't think I will be able to play any of the previous Halo games now without the sprint.
- After four Halo games, the formula has been refined and the overall experience was great, but this series' gameplay is now starting to show its age.  The fantastic level design and the best A.I. in the biz keeps things fresh and always fun, but Halo needs a revamping in the overall gameplay department for any potential future releases (and since future games won't be by Bungie, we'll probably see just that).
- It goes without saying, but this is the best looking game in the series (it better be).  It may not be the best looking FPS out there, but what it lacks in texture detail or geometry it more than makes up in sheer scale.  The levels are huge and open and just beg for exploration.  Yet the game's sense of urgency almost discourages exploration at the same time.  As might be evident by me beating the game in 2 days, I did not do much exploring in my first playthrough, deciding to stick to character and rushing through sections as the game's tempo dictated.  But I plan on taking things much slower on my Legendary run.  And in reality, the ONLY way to beat Halo games on Legendary is to take things very slow.
- It was kinda strange to basically always have teammates with you throughout the entire campaign.  You teamed up with troops at various times in previous games, but you rarely go lone-wolf in this one.  And as strange as it sounds, I kinda prefer the lone-wolf stuff.  I always tend to enjoy the sections where I am a one man army more than when fighting alongside a squad.
- Story-wise, I enjoyed it.  I've always been a big fan of Halo's campaign, so I probably follow the story a lot more than the average Joe (reading up on it after the fact, etc.).  I feel Bungie has done a pretty poor job conveying the Halo story to the player in their games.  It is pretty hard to figure out exactly why you are doing certain things.  Reach might be the best of the series in this regard, but still, I'm sure 90% of the players have no idea what is really going on, what Reach meant to humanity, what an important turning point it was in the series, etc.
And that's about it.  I'm going to start up a Legendary campaign and will begin to dive into Firefight and matchmaking.  I'll probably post some multiplayer impressions soon.  Although, given my thoughts on the Beta they may just be me bitching that the game does not play more like CoD.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mafia II

Mafia II is an odd game.
It gets solid marks for its technical abilities.  The game looks very good.  In fact, in can be drop dead gorgeous at times.  Environments are large and authentic and there's a good amount of physics at play.
The audio also gets high marks.  Great voice-acting.  Great period music.
The storyline and cutscenes are fun to watch.  Classic gangster stuff, more Goodfellas than Godfather.
The gameplay is solid as well.  Driving physics are realistic and the cars control as well as cars from the 40's and 50's can control.  Gunplay is standard 3rd person fare, with a cover system and familiar play mechanics.  Melee combat is a bit rough around the edges, but not horridly bad.
The one area where the game really excels is overall emersion in the era.  The visuals, audio, voice-acting and story come together very well to create a great setting.
So then why, if all aspects of the game are solid to excellent, am I just not really enjoying this game that much?
I've put in about 10 hours into it, am towards the end of the game, and I just have weird mixed feelings about my experience.  There have been moments when I've really enjoyed the game.  The game gets some tiny details right, making the game seem really realistic (sometimes annoying so), and some other aspects are lazily done, looking totally "game-like" and ruining your immersion in this rich game world.  And then there are just odd things added that seem to serve absolutely no purpose at all.
Some examples.  Note, I am going into total rant/nitpick mode here:
- In your apartment (or the apartment of others) you have the ability to turn off any of the lights, turn on all facets, showers, flush the toilet, etc.  Except it serves absolutely no purpose.  Ok, many games let you do such things, but for some reason it just seems especially out of place in this game.  Oh, you can also grab food or drinks out of the fridge to consume.  Again, I do not see the point of this.  I think it may replenish your health or something, but I have never been in my apartment and needed "health".  Maybe if the game had some hunger/thirst system I could see the point, otherwise, it is just there for no purpose, other than the novelty of drinking a beer the first time and then never doing it again.  Yes, this seems like a nitpick on my end, but for some reason this stuff seems to stand out to me in Mafia II more than in other games.  Almost as if the developer had plans for all these others tasks and then left some gameplay mechanic out at the last second.
- While Empire Bay is a large detailed city, there is basically nothing to do in it aside from whatever mission you are currently assigned.  This is definitely not a sandbox game, even though you can go anywhere you want.  There is no reason (or down time) to explore, because there is nothing to actually do outside what the game has in store for you.
- You have to periodically put gas in your car.  Realistic?  Sure.  Necessary?  Nope.  Again, another example of the game going to extreme lengths to do something "realistic", but in reality, it is just a cumbersome task to do.  One the game could have easily done without.
- Speaking of gas and driving, seems like driving makes up 75% of the gameplay.
- The game also loves cutscenes.  A bit too much.  It has some of that Metal Gear syndrome, in that you might have a cutscene, then 15 seconds of gameplay and then you are right back to another cutscene.  It just seems odd to give players control for those 15 seconds, to then go back to another cutscene.  It is annoying.  Especially when sometimes all you do is walk a few feet to trigger that next cutscene.  Sometimes I'd much rather be actually playing what is going on in the cutscene instead of watching.
- And amusingly enough, sometimes the opposite is true.  There is one mission where you have to pick up a heavy weapon to take to a location.  So you go to the shop to grab this weapon.  You then actually control Vito (your character) as he carries this weapon back to the car.  Mind you it is heavy so you are walking at a snail's pace, and you have to walk through a few hallways and up a few stairs.  Really?  THAT would have been just fine to see in a cut-scene.  It was not entertaining at all to control Vito carrying that heavy box for what felt like 2 minutes.  WTF guys?
- One big problem I have with this game - and sandbox games in general - is that the game holds your hand way too much.  I understand this is a large game world and you don't want players getting lost or wandering around aimlessly wondering where they have to go, but sometimes these games go too far, sucking out a lot of potential fun and opportunities to immerse yourself in your character's situation even more.  An example: One mission tasks you with breaking into a building.  It would have been fun to sneak around, trying to figure out exactly how to break in.  Instead, you have a big dot on your radar telling exactly where you have to go to break in.  That kinda sucks the fun out of figuring it out on your own.  I don't have an issue with the radar showing how to get to a location, but there are times that once you get to that location, the rest should be up to the player.
- I also really wish the player had more input in where to take the story.  Letting the player make some of their own choices would have been just fantastic in this game.  There were times when I really wish I could choose which route I wanted my character to go story-wise.  We don't need Mass Effect levels of choice here, but there were a few key story points where this would have been great, and added a ton of tension to the scene as you choose which direction to take a situation.
And that's where I am at right now.  I've had some really fun, tense, exhilarating moments.  Some pretty emotional ones too.  But the game can't consistently pull them off and just when I was really enjoying the game (a span of 2 - 3 chapters in the later half of the game are really, really good), it throws a curve ball at you and I'm not really liking the direction it has gone since then.
I'll chime in when I finish the game with final thoughts.