Friday, August 03, 2007

PlayStation 2 (PS2) - Deus Ex: The Conspiracy - Two Hours In

Review: I picked up Deus Ex: The Conspiracy even though I already had the PC version. There are three reasons. First, I have become accustomed to playing shooters with the analog thumbsticks, and no longer consider it a major factor in deciding between console and PC versions. Second, this game can be played with a USB mouse and keyboard, so I can play the game the PC way. Third, I've started to prefer console versions of games in general, simply because of the convenience factor. It's just easier on a console.

At first glance, Deus Ex looks and plays like a first-person shooter. But peel away the FPS exterior and you'll find that within beats an RPG heart. There are character stats, skill stats, augmentation slots corresponding roughly to armor and weapon slots in fantasy RPGs, and other RPG-ish features. A better classification for Deus Ex might be First-Person RPG, like Morrowind or Oblivion.

As in Oblivion, characters in the game world are aware of your previous actions and your alignment and will treat you accordingly. If, for instance, you shoot dead every rebel, bloodthirsty characters will be more likely to give you weapons and ammunition, while more professional soldiers will be reluctant to assist you. On the other hand, if you incapacitate them all, the reverse will hold. These features and others such as characters commenting on your previous actions, contribute greatly to the illusion that this is a living, breathing universe populated by real people.

Unlike many other RPGs that claim to be science fictional in nature (e.g. Anarchy Online and Xenosaga), this one really is; it has no fantasy elements in it at all. That, for me, is a definite plus.

The story is a near-future tale of power and privilege oppressing the downtrodden... or of law, order and justice defeating terrorists, depending on which in-game propaganda you read. This game is more full of conspiracies, cabals, and hidden agendas than an Oliver Stone film. The labyrinthine plot is certainly one of its stronger points.

The graphical presentation is about what you'd expect from a 2002 PS2 port of a 2000 PC game; there's only so much that can be crammed into the PS2's memory, and tradeoffs must be made. The designers decided to enhance the main characters with higher detail, and they look very good. But as a result, non-main characters and the environments are a bit on the blurry side. It's okay though; I didn't find that the limited visuals hurt the game experience. What they do very well, though, is remind one of Blade Runner, as the PC game did.

Another compromise comes in the area of level design. In order to make everything fit, there are far more frequent loading screens than in the PC game, and they last just a little longer than is comfortable.

Sound design is outstanding. Background noises lend exactly the right ambience to the scenes, and the situation-appropriate music adds atmosphere. Voice work is excellent throughout, with the least emotive performance coming from the player's character J.C. Denton. This was probably intentional, as the designers wanted the character to be a blank mask for the player to don. Mostly, anyway. I think they were looking for a bit of the hard-boiled detective persona as well, a tough guy who doesn't emote much.

Gameplay is good, though not without its flaws. On the plus side, Ion Storm did a really good job of incorporating RPG stats into an action context. Improved gun skills will increase weapon range and accuracy, while decreasing aim wander when using a scope. Improved athletic skills results in greater running speed, higher jumps, heavier objects that can be moved, and so on.

Also a plus is that all cuscenes can be skipped, and game progress can be saved at any time, just like the PC version. Neither of these should be underestimated, as they remove two significant frustrations with other games (Final Fantasy X, I'm looking at you).

On the minus side, there's no stealth meter or the like to tell you when you're exposed. This may be more realistic, but in game terms it makes stealth a far less attractive option; they're going to see you anyway, so why waste time sneaking when you can just shoot them all?

In that same vein there's the supposed game feature that one can play either as a cold-blooded assassin or a law-enforcement professional; it's purported to be possible to take down all enemies with nonlethal means. In practice, unless the player has mad skilz (and I don't), it doesn't work. There's only one nonlethal distance weapon and ammo for it is rare. The rest are melee weapons, and their ammo is rare too. Those that don't require ammo (the baton) need several hits for a takedown.

On the other hand, there's no shortage of gun ammo, so it's far easier to just shoot all the enemies. I could get through the first mission with stealth and knockouts, but in the second there just wasn't enough nonlethal ammo, leaving me with just the baton, which is of limited use without reliable stealth. And of course I had plenty of guns.

Another game feature I expect to like not so much is permanent nanotech mods. Such mods lock out the ability to install a different mod in that slot. Unless they're handled exceptionally well, they run the risk of making gameplay less enjoyable by forcing the player to make a choice early in the game that makes the game less enjoyable later. One might find and install a good permanent mod only to find out later there's a better one, and be unable to install it. Or one might pass up a mod fearing lock-in, and later find it's exactly the one needed but is no longer available.

I recommend it, especially for fans of cyberpunk fiction, Blade Runner, and the like. It has quite good gameplay with minor issues (stealth, permamods), good visual presentation, outstanding sound and voice work, a fascinating plot and interesting characters.

Grade: A-

PlayStation (PS1/PSX) - Final Fantasy VII - Eight Hours In

Review: It's hard to write a review for this game. After all, it's Final Fantasy VII! What can I possibly say about it that hasn't been said elsewhere, and better. It's one of the few games out there that changed the face of gaming. It's the game that made Japanese RPGs accessible to US gamers.

The story? Pretty good sci-fi/fantasy mix. The presentation? Dated now but quite good for 1997 on the original PlayStation. The gameplay? Innovative and fun, neither too easy nor too hard for the mainstream gamer. An entire evening can easily disappear into this game.

Verdict? If you haven't played it, do.

Grade: A

PlayStation (PS1/PSX) - Fear Effect - Update

Review update: Fear Effect just kills me... repeatedly. It's a pernicious time vortex which has sucked up hours of real time while depositing less than sixty minutes on the game clock.

It would be a little easier to take if the save point were right before the kill-spot, but it isn't; there's always some amount of irrelevant action required to reach the deadly confrontation. For instance, one bit required a minute's worth of timed runs across red-hot pipes before encountering a VTOL aircraft that kills the player in one shot.

Were it not for the interesting story, I'd quit entirely. As it is, I'm going to put it away until the frustration subsides enough to allow me to enjoy it again. And then use a cheat-code; I'm far more interested in the story and puzzles than the clunky combat.

Grade: C-

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Xbox 360 - Wing Commander: Arena - A Half Hour Played

As a space fighter sim fan, I've followed the Wing Commander series over the years. I own in some form every game in the WC franchise except Privateer 2: The Darkening and Armada.

So when I saw that a new Wing Commander game - Wing Commander: Arena - was available on Xbox Live Arcade, I immediately ponied up 800 Live points and downloaded it.


This isn't a space fighter sim. It's a multiplayer 2D shootemup. It looks 3D at first and that's how it's advertised, but I soon realized the ships all move in a common plane, and there's no first-person view. There is a single-player mode, but even that lacks the mission structure of other Wing Commander games; it's just practice for the multiplayer action, against AI opponents.

Lip service is given to the WC universe in the form of a one-paragraph backstory and ship designs that look like ones from ConFed and the Kilrathi. It's a multiplayer arcade game (complete with powerups) in Wing Commander clothing. Some people may find that kind of game fun, but I'm afraid it's not my cup of tea. Now I'll have to go back and play Wing Commander: Prophecy to satiate my renewed WC jones.

Curse you, EA!

Recommended? For arcade multiplayer fans, maybe. I wouldn't really know. For Wing Commander fans? No.

Grade: D

PlayStation (PS1/PSX) - Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus - A Half Hour In

Review: With the arrival of Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus for the original PlayStation, my collection is complete. It is not all the Oddness my heart could desire, but it's all I'm likely to get for the forseeable future.

I'm not going to say much about this game, except that it's more of the same - the same as Abe's Oddysee. Read my review of that game for why this one is good. Sure, there's a new plot and there are additional controllable characters and new things to say via GameSpeak, and enough content to fill two disks instead of one, but at its core the gameplay and humor are unchanged.


Grade: A

Xbox - Star Wars: Starfighter: Special Edition - One Hour In

Review: I never liked the Star Wars prequel trilogy much. But I do like space fighter games. So deciding whether to buy Star Wars: Starfighter: Special Edition was tough. In the end my taste for space fighter sims outweighed my distaste for what George Lucas had done to his own brainchild. Besides, Lucas doesn't have a direct hand in the novels, games, and other "Expanded Universe" materials. So there was a chance of goodness.

I'm glad I did buy it, for this game is fun. It's one of those rare gems I can't put down. I start the game intending to just do one mission, and an hours later I'm still saying to myself, "Just one more..." Any game that engaging goes on my "must play" list.

The plot is a side-story that takes place in the same time frame as the first prequel movie, but only occasionally intersects with its events (for instance, assisting the Queen's starship in its escape from Naboo). It ends up working rather well, and tells a more interesting tale (for me) than the movie's.

The presentation is extremely slick and well-produced. Everything looks and sounds like it should, vibration is well-integrated, and the voice work is outstanding.

Gameplay is equally solid. Wingmen are pretty stupid and get in the line of fire from time to time, but that's so common in space shooters it's virtually a tradition now. Everything else works smoothly. Controls are well-laid-out and responsive

Star Wars: Starfighter: Special Edition is recommended. It's not for the hardcore sim fan, but everyone else should enjoy it. Even if you're not a fan of space fighter games, give it a rental. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Xbox 360 Owners: You're out of luck. As of this writing it's not on the compatibility list.

PlayStation 2 Owners: This game was released first for the PS2 (minus the "Special Edition" in the titile), and I owned it. As best I can remember, everything I said above about the Xbox version applies equally to the PS2 version.

Grade: A-

PlayStation Portable (PSP) - Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth - Several Hours In

Review: I came late to role-playing games. Had a bad experience in the late 80's that put me off the genre until 2005. Now I eat 'em up, especially Japanese RPGs. Valkyrie Profile was a PlayStation JRPG I sought for my library. The cheapest it could be had - used - was $80 USD. That's a collector's price, and I'm a player not a collector.

Then Square-Enix released Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth for the PlayStation Portable and Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria for the PlayStation 2. I thought they were both sequels to Valkyrie Profile, and Silmeria is. But Lenneth, to my surprise and delight, turned out to be a direct port of the original.

The story is pretty good; it's actually a set of smaller stories united by a very recognizable version of Norse mythology. Ragnarok, the final battle between the Norse gods and the Giants is nearly at hand. A valkyrie named Lenneth is sent to Earth to gather the souls of fallen human warriors, prepare them for battle, and send them to heaven to be part of the army of the gods. There are, as in any RPG, liberties taken with the backstory and characters to make the game work, but in this case less than I would have thought.

Graphics and sound are pretty good - for a game created for the original PlayStation. Most games made for the PSP are closer to the presentation quality of the PS2, but this is a straight PS1 port. Voice work is adequate, though at times a bit overwrought.

What sets this game apart from other JRPGs is its gameplay. Some of the differences are good, and others are mistakes. I'll start with the mistakes.

The single biggest mistake in the game is its doomsday clock. There are a finite number of "periods" before Ragnarok, the war that ends the world and the game. Every entry into a town or dungeon consumes one or more of these periods. This increases the player's sense of urgency, but at the cost of other problems. The first of these is inherent in any game with a time-limit: painting yourself into a corner. It's not hard to mess up badly at the beginning of the game and then run out of time before completing all the necessary missions. There's no way out of such a situation except to start over. Not fun.

Next, there's levelling. Those of us unfamiliar with the nuances of combat, equipment, party balance and so on are denied the opportunity to make up for it by grinding. The doomsday clock means that grinding costs precious time before Ragnarok comes. Not that I like grinding; quite the opposite. But I like studying the arcane details of overly-complicated battle, inventory and crafting systems even less. It's supposed to be a game, not a course in advanced mathematics.

Enjoyment of the story also suffers. Visiting a town before and after it plays a part in the plot affords the opportunity to talk with the townsfolk and get some background. Again comes the clock to put a wet blanket on. Extra visits? More periods consumed.

And finally the doomsday clock damages one of the more innovative game features: an open world. It is in theory possible to visit the various towns and dungeons in any order you like, but the time limit encourages the player to visit them in the order suggested by Lenneth's visions.

Besides the doomsday clock, another game design mistake is dumping explanation of the finer points of the various game systems (combat, equipment, party makeup, etc) into text files whose translation from Japanese is mediocre. And there's little or no explanation of the crafting system. All of this would have been far better explained either in the tutorial portion of the game, or in small increments through the game as they become necessary.

The last mistake I'll describe here is treasure. All of the phattest loot must be offered up to the god Odin or one's evaluation will drop - which makes winning the final battle less likely. One of the things that keeps people playing these games is the prospect of finding new and powerful items that one can use to smack down ever more dangerous enemies. Not here.

On the plus side, many aspects of Lenneth's gameplay truly are innovative. The battle system is turn-based, but also relies on timing to deliver combo attacks (fortunately, timing isn't that critical there). The crafting system lets you create items out of thin air and magic, and conversely turn items into magic power.

One innovation that gives the series its name is that non-combat gameplay more closely resembles a platformer than the usual 2D or 2.5D adventure game. The Valkyrie is typically seen in profile from left or right, hence the game name.

Enemy encounters are not random; one can see the opposing party before choosing whether to fight it, and can gain initiative in the battle by choosing the fight rather than letting the monster attack. Many of these encounters are unavoidable. You have to do them anyway in order to reach parts of the dungeon and in order to to level your party. But it's nice to have at least the illusion of choice.

The game world is open from the start, as far as I can tell. The player can visit any of the towns or dungeons at any time. However, the game's time limit discourages it and visiting a town out of order means nothing plot-advancing can be done there.

All in all, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is an enjoyable JRPG with a good story, reasonable presentation, and generally good gameplay with some flaws. It will appeal more to fans of the genre willing to overlook its shortcomings than it will to more mainstream gamers.

Grade: B-

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Oddly Wrathful Part 2

Review update: Another evening of hunting bounties as The Stranger in Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath has poured a layer of quickset over my already hardening opinion: it's a good game but not Odd enough.

A bit more of the plot has been revealed, concerning the motivation for Stranger's current occupation of bounty hunting, but nothing really shocking. Certainly there's nothing approaching the magnitude of what Abe discovered in the first Oddworld game.

I've taken it out of my playlist as the Oddworld games are parts of a single story and I haven't even completed the first one yet. So this is the last I'll be writing about it for quite a while.

Grade: B

Friday, July 20, 2007

Xbox - Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee - Two Hours In

When Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee was released as a launch title for the Xbox in 2001, I didn't pay much attention. At the local CompUSA I saw demos for it and for Halo, and dismissed both out-of-hand. I thought that a thumbstick was a terrible way to try to aim a gun, and that third-person perspective in a game would ruin immersion. Only a first-person view would do.

Now, with the benefit of nearly six years of experience, hindsight, and surgery to remove the stick from up my butt, I see things a little differently. Halo is one of my favorite game series, and Oddworld has just become one of my favorite playgrounds. It's not about immersion, it's not about anal-retentive aiming accuracy, it's about entertainment. And Munch's Oddysee does not fail in that regard.

As I've mentioned in my previous reviews for Abe's Oddysee and Stranger's Wrath, I'm a fancier of the strange, the bizarre, the off. Stranger's Wrath disappointed in that department, for my impression of it was not one of weird creatures from another world, but of cartoon animals from this one. Munch's Oddysee, on the other hand, is as wonderfully weird as Abe's Oddysee.

I almost didn't buy it this time, because of that demo experience years ago. What I remembered of it wasn't that strange. The portion in the demo was not so weird and was very like other platformers. Perhaps Microsoft thought the Oddness of the rest of the game would frighten off potential customers, when actually it's the series' defining characteristic.

But I'm happy I did buy it, because this game is good.

It's everything that Abe's Oddysee was, in a 3D world. All the moves and actions seem natural in 3D, never like a poor translation. The design of the characters and environments is identical to the 2D games, and no little bit of the Oddness is lost in the transition. Nowhere is this more evident than in the design of Munch, a frog-eyed big-headed pot-bellied single-flippered amphibian who is quite speedy in the water but who hops awkwardly on land.

And it's just as much fun if not more. Read my earlier review of Abe's Oddysee to find out why it's fun, and imagine it in 3D to find out why it's more. I recommend a purchase from your local bargain bin or Internet store.

Xbox 360 Users: At the time of this writing, Munch's Oddysee is on the compatibility list, but I experienced jerky cutscene playback. Those who always skip cutscenes probably won't care, but I found the issue annoying enough that I played on an original Xbox instead.

Grade: A+

PlayStation (PS1/PSX) - Fear Effect - Just Started

My first experience with a Fear Effect title was actually Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, which I finished some years ago. That turned out well since the second game is a prequel for the first. Its last scene is only hours before the first scene in Fear Effect. Since I've just started the game, mostly I'll be talking about the second one and how it relates to what I've seen of the first.

Both are adventure games with a bit of action thrown in, in the mold of Beneath a Steel Sky, the first two Dino Crisis games, or the first three Resident Evil games. Like those games, play consists of moving the player's avatar against a pre-rendered background and performing various actions, mostly some form of key-hunting or puzzle-solving.

FE2 starts out as a story about near-future mercenaries hired to pull off a heist, but evolves into a tale involving deities from Chinese mythology. FE is starting in a similar fashion, and I expect that some supernatural elements will find their way in before it's over. This time the mercenaries are after a runaway Triad boss's daughter in order to collect the bounty for her safe return.

On the down side, unlike FE2, control is limited to character-relative movement. The player can turn it and move it back or forward, like driving a radio-controlled car. The second game provided a scheme for movement relative to the camera, which is far more natural and much missed here.

On the up side, every aspect of the presentation is top-drawer, just like the other game. The backgrounds aren't just pre-rendered as in Resident Evil or Dino Crisis, they're also animated, bringing the environment to life with a distinct Blade Runner vibe. The voice work I've heard so far has been uniformly excellent, as have been the sounds and character animations.

Here's a tip for those who go out and pick up this game: you don't have to play it like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. You start the game holding your gun rather than your knife, and there's good reason for that. Sure you can pull off stealth kills, but the fixed camera makes it quite difficult and it's usually unnecessary. Pistol ammo is plentiful, killing enemies will boost your fear meter back into the green, and aiming is pretty much automatic. Shooting will usually not bring all the guards running, only the closest. So save stealth for those situations where the game makes it plain you need it.

Fear Effect is a well-produced and directed dystopian near-future sci-fi and fantasy adventure game with some action thrown into the mix. If that sort of thing appeals to you, and you're willing to overlook the presentation limitations of PS1 games, then this is a good game to pick up. I for one am looking forward to spending some more time with it.

Grade: B+

Xbox 360 - Ace Combat 6 Demo

I'm a big fan of combat flight simulator games, whether aero or astro. And I've always thought that the Ace Combat series strikes the perfect balance between realism and the arcade. Too much realism ard you've got Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator or IL-2 5turmovik where so much effort goes into managing and navigating the aircraft that play becomes work. That's for the hardcore simulator jockeys. Too little and you've got Afterburner, where the "aircraft" moves in ways not remotely resembling flight.

The Ace Combat games combine aircraft that look authentic and fly in a somewhat realistic manner with photorealistic terrain and just enough arcadey concessions to playability (ridiculous amounts of ludicrously accurate missiles, for instance) to make the experience a fun one. I've enjoyed them so much I own all except Ace Combat GBA, which is not a flight sim but an arcade shoot-em-up.

Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation? Sold! It went on my must-buy list as soon as I found out it was in development. I only downloaded and played the demo to answer the question: "Does the ol' girl look better with the new coat of pretty they slapped on her?"

She does.

I can see a myriad of details that weren't visible in the PS2 games, plus extra little effects (like the individually moving nozzle flaps on the F-16's engine), plus more highly detailed terrain and buildings, plus, plus, plus. Explosions and falling aircraft look more spectacular, and even the vapor trails coming off the wings look more realistic. It is as much an improvement over the PS2 games as they were over the PS1 titles.

The core gameplay is the same as it's been in every game in the series since Ace Combat 2, and that's a good thing. I won't go into details for fear of spoiling it, but based on the demo series veterans can expect to encounter many of the elements that are a staple of the franchise.

Even if I hadn't been a fan before, the demo would have sold me on this game; several times during the demo's single mission I uttered the coveted "sweet!" and at one point the elusive "holy crap!"

I recommend trying the demo for Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation. Even if combat flight sims are not your cup of tea, you may well find yourself a convert.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Xbox - Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath - One Hour In

Having tried and enjoyed Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, I've decided to go ahead and acquire the other titles in the series. The first one I've been able to get my hands on is the Xbox game Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath.

The first two Oddworld games were 2D platformers for the original PlayStation. The last two were 3D Xbox platformers. Stranger's Wrath is the second of the Xbox titles and is not a pure 3D platformer; instead it's a hybrid of 3D platformer and first-person shooter.

This one is not part of the "quintology" story arc started in Abe's Oddysee and continued in Munch's Oddysee. It is instead a side story like Abe's Exoddus, set in the same world as the others. This story has a kind of Western theme, with an Odd spin to it. Birdoids are townsfolk, slugoids are the outlaws, a catoid (who runs on all fours when he really gets moving) is the titular Stranger, and ammunition for the Stranger's gun is made of small animals and large bugs (hence "live" ammo). The Stranger is a bounty hunter, a kind of Oddworld equivalent to Sergio Leone's Man With No Name.

As with Abe's Oddysee gameplay is well-designed and executed, though a little less puzzle-oriented and with a greater focus on combat and shooting. It's pretty easy to get killed, but there's also a pretty short stretch between checkpoints. One aspect that's better than the first game is that one can save at any time. Another difference is that this game includes a life-meter, which the player can replenish by having Stranger beat his chest. There's no hunting for health-packs as there is in many games, and the HUD only appears when it's needed.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that it's partly played as a third-person platformer, and partly as a first-person shooter. You can't shoot when in third-person mode, and you can't perform platforming moves in first-person mode. You've got to use both to get through, so neither mode feels tacked-on or unnecesary. The transition between modes is handled extremely well; unlike many platformers which will move the camera angle to the character's view when switching to first-person mode, this one turns the Stranger to match the camera. Similarly, when switching back to third person the player's view angle doesn't change. This may seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference during gameplay. Not having to rotate the view to aim at the enemy when switching between first and third person makes it worlds easier to handle a fight.

As for the story, I haven't gotten very far into it and haven't seen much. I suspect there are many twists to come as the Stranger moves down the road. But I just don't know yet, so I can't comment on that.

While the presentation is well-produced, there's a certain something that's lacking from it. Namely, the Oddness. The character designs, sounds, and environments in the first game just oozed weirdness from every pixel and both speakers. The Mudokons, Sligs, Scrabs, and other characters seemed misshappen and moved in a bizarre fashion. They spoke in weird voices with inappropriate affect. There's a whole lot less of this ooze in Stranger's Wrath. The voices sound like stereotypical Western characters (which admittedly seems a little weird given the context), and all the characters, including the live ammo, seem like funny talking animals from cartoons. It's far more goofy than Odd, something I wouldn't find out of place in other cartoon-oriented platformers. But it's not what I expect or want from Oddworld.

The humor also falls a bit flat in comparison to Abe's Oddysee. Perhaps we're meant to find the situation of cartoon talking animals filling Western roles and speaking with Western accents funny, but I just didn't. I smiled a bit at some of the jokes, but didn't laugh nearly as often or as loud as I did playing the first game.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is not as entertaining as the first game in the series, but is still a good platformer and FPS. The gameplay is about as good though different in focus. The real problem is that the game's vibe wasn't Odd enough to please me. I wouldn't pay full price for it, but since it's been out for a while you won't have to.

Grade: B

PlayStation (PS1/PSX) - Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee - One Hour In

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is a 2D platformer I recently picked up for the PlayStation (original, not PS2 or PS3). I had seen a rating of 91% on for Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, spied the first one in a used bookstore and picked it up, thinking it was the second. But that's okay, because Abe's Oddysee had gotten a score of 89%, and while it is below my cutoff for considering a game purchase, I like stuff that's weird and different, and it cost under $5.00 USD. That's less than a rental on a new game. Sold!

I'm glad I bought it, because I've found in the hour I've played it that it's weird and fun and a shining example (mostly) of good game design.

It's about a Mudokon slave named Abe who works in a meat factory and one day discovers its dark secret. He must now escape and lead his fellow Mudokons to freedom.

It's a pretty standard 2D platformer, with a few tweaks. In addition to the usual climbing and jumping and operating machinery, there's a Lemmings-like aspect to it where Abe must rescue his fellow slaves by talking to them and leading them out of the meat factory.

The gameplay design is innovative and well-thought-out. All the holdovers from quarter-eating arcade games are gone - there's no score, no count of lives, no life meter, in fact no status display at all. An attack either kills Abe or it doesn't. Abe has infinite lives, and dying merely results in his resurrection at the last checkpoint. The distance between checkpoints (so far) has seemed nicely short, so that I haven't had to repeat so much when killed. While these features have become common in games in recent years, in 1997 they were pretty new.

The only potential snake in this grass is what I've read about later stages in the game; apparently there have been complaints that death often occurs irritatingly far from the last checkpoint. I can see where this would be a problem, but I simply haven't encountered it yet.

What makes this game even more special is the story, presentation, and humor. I won't speak of the story for fear of spoiling it for potential players, but I can talk about the other aspects.

The presentation is terrific, especially for a PlayStation game. The action may be 2D, but everything, from the characters to the platforms and backgrounds, has a 3D look to it. The animations are fluid and 3D in appearance. The art design is consistent throughout and succeeds brilliantly in conveying the weirdness of this very Odd world.

The sound is outstanding, especially the voice work - the nasal Mudokons, the gravelly Glukkons, and so on. All the other sounds are appropriate and clear. The music is also well-integrated into the action and enhances the entire Odd experience.

The humor is also a notable element of the game, especially the pronouncements from the Glukkon overlords on the factory tickers. "Work hard, die young, win valuable prizes," and "Only 1,236 work related accidents this month. Keep up the good work!" are just a couple of the messages I saw. There is more, woven into the cutscenes, dialogues between characters, and in the very animations (I burst out laughing the first time I saw Abe sneak across a platform). And most of it succeeds.

In short, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is a fun, excellently produced and directed 2D platformer that will provide hours of fun, well worth picking up used in a game shop's bargain bin, or on Amazon or eBay.

Grade: A

Xbox 360 - The Darkness - Two Hours In

The Darkness, an Xbox 360 game I picked up recently, is a first-person shooter with a horror twist. The player steps into the shoes of Jackie Estacado, a mob enforcer who's in trouble with his boss Uncle Paulie over a botched collection job. But Jackie has been possessed by The Darkness, a spirit creature that gives him the power to destroy his enemies with a variety of demonic abilities.

The portion I've played involves the immediate aftermath of the snafu'd collection, Uncle Paulie's attempts to kill him, his possession by The Darkness, and his flight to his girlfriend's apartment.

Gameplay is pretty standard shooter fare, plus the demonic powers that draw their strength from darkness (so shoot out the lights!). The demonic powers are pretty nifty and include the ability to summon and direct hell-spawned imps, to see in the dark, to send a demon snake to spy on enemies and kill them, and snake-headed tentacles that can dispatch enemies at close range. Life is the now-standard automatic recovery when not taking damage, so there are no health-packs to worry about. It's competently done.

The graphics are, as is now standard in a current-gen title, very pretty, with all the little details one has come to expect in today's games. Sound is exceptionally good, particularly the voicework and the distorted voice of The Darkness.

But is it scary? Not so much. Scary is being afraid that something horrible out there in the dark or fog is going to get you. Scary is having to open the door into the room with all the wet noises coming from it, knowing that you'll probably be the next wet noise if you do. Scary is feeling hot breath on the back of your neck and feeling drool drip onto your shoulders as something prepares to slurp you down whole. Scary is not being the ghostie or ghoulie or long-legged creepie that's going to get the poor human. Fun it might be, but not frightening.

So is it fun? It's okay but not great. There's a certain amount of enjoyment to be had from taking down cocky thugs with the powers of darkness, but there's a kind of grimness to it that puts a damper on. Perhaps I've been spoiled by being the Overlord in Overlord and the Alien in Aliens vs. Predator, but I found being evil in those games far more enjoyable than in this one.

What's left? The story. I found the story (two stories, actually - not really related to each other) somewhat interesting. It is at least engaging enough that I will play again, if only to see how Jackie's conflict with Uncle Paulie plays out, and to learn more about The Darkness.

The Darkness is a competently produced and directed shooter with a supernatural horror twist that is interesting to play mostly for its pair of stories. I don't know that I'd pay full price for it if I had it to do again, but it's certainly worth a rental to see if it's your cup of tea, and perhaps picking up when the price drops in a year or two.

Grade: B

Xbox 360 - Project Sylpheed - Completed First Mission

I'd heard of Silpheed before, a side-scrolling shoot-em-up in the same vein as R-Type. I downloaded the Project Sylpheed demo from Xbox Live, expecting the same sort of 2D shooter, perhaps with some enhanced graphics.

It's not.

Project Sylpheed is an Xbox 360 exclusive, a full-blown 3D space fighter game in the same vein as X-Wing, Wing Commander, Colony Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Wars Starfighter. I love these kinds of games - even programmed a simple one in that genre back in 1980 - so I immediately added this title to my "must buy" list.

The game has a mission structure similar to the others I mentioned, with a branching storyline. In flight, the game plays very much like Battlestar Galactica, with various "special moves" triggered by button combos. In the menus and cutscenes the game looks and feels very much like games from the aerial fighter series Ace Combat. In fact, the music and animation seems like it was designed by the same people. The RPG-like fighter customization and upgrade system is also very reminiscent of Ace Combat, as is the mission performance grading, money earning and radio chatter.

Graphically, the game is beautiful, if a little on the busy side during large dogfights. Controls are fairly standard for this sort of game, and pretty responsive. I found the various HUD displays and different weapons fairly easy to master. Situational awareness is easier to come by in the full game than I recall from the demo; I never felt really lost or overwhelmed by the amount of information I had to manage as a pilot.

I don't have a fancy sound system. I use the stereo speakers built into my television. And I'm not really that aware of sound, so the quality has to be exceptionally good or bad for me to notice it. All I can say about the sound in this game is that I didn't notice it.

One area in which this game excels is its flight tutorial; every in-flight control and feature is demonstrated in detail. It's easily the equal of the tutorial in X-Wing, and far superior to the diagrams and text of Battlestar Galactica.

But is the game fun? Oh yes. There's little that's more fun than getting into a serious dogfight against multiple opponents, locking on, and firing your missiles, then watching as the explosions bloom around you. This game, the first of its kind for the Xbox 360 - in fact, for any console in the current generation - is a worthy addition to the collection of any space fighter fan.

Grade: A

Friday, July 13, 2007

Xbox - Mechassault - Finished Three Missions

I originally picked up this Xbox game for reasons other than playing it, but on giving it a try found it to be quite enjoyable.

What I've read about the game suggests that the bulk of its value resides in multiplayer action over Xbox Live, but never having tried it I can't say one way or the other. What I can say something about are the pros and cons of the single-player experience.

The presentation is solid, with everything looking, sounding, and shaking like it should. Even little details like the look of rain splashing off your mech are present and handled well. Controls are well-laid-out and responsive. Enemy mechs are tough and reasonably smart. They sure don't miss often. Level design is competent. Voice work is well-done. The overall experience is a fun one.

Pen-and-paper Battletech purists will probably find fault with the lack of mech customization options, but I found that the limited selection meant getting back into combat quicker. Some explanation of the finer points of mech vs. mech combat would have been welcome. The lack of checkpoints is frustrating; who wants to fight through an entire mission's worth of little guys a second time when the end-of-mission boss smacks the payer down in just a few hits?

Summary: Fun game, needs in-mission checkpoints.

Grade: B

Thursday, July 12, 2007

PlayStation 2 (PS2) - Killer7 - Completed First Boss Fight

Killer7 is a case of function following form. Gameplay considerations take a back seat to the title's striking anime-inspired visual art style and convoluted, surreal plot. However, I found that within those stylistic constraints the gameplay worked well for me. But it's definitely not for everyone; it will appeal less to those seeking a standard JRPG or those seeking an FPS action-fest, and more to those who want something a little different, a little cerebral, a little bit adult in its themes.

If you like narratives in which the dividing line between reality and hallucination is quite deliberately blurred, or where the reader or viewer is never quite sure whether the story's events are taking place in the story's world or in the protagonist's delusions, then this one is for you. It shares themes with works such as those by Philip K. Dick (both the stories and the movies made from them - We Can Remember It for You Wholesale/Total Recall, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Ubik), David Lynch (especially Twin Peaks), and Franz Kafka.

Taken at face value, Killer7 is about an assassin hired by the U.S. government to target and kill suicide bombers called "Heaven Smiles". This is no ordinary assassin; he has multiple personalities that manifest physically, changing not only behavior but also clothes, height, weight, face, hair and gender in the blink of an eye. He is haunted by apparitions, ghosts of his previous victims that offer him advice or insults. And he is the only person who can see the Heaven Smiles.

Or perhaps it's all just the paranoid schizophrenic delusions of a crippled, senile old man.

The real strengths of this game come from its story and presentation. It has a complex and interesting plot that operates on a number of levels from the psychological to the philosophical. The presentation just drips smooth criminal visual style, reminiscent in some ways of anime such as Akira. The sound and music support this, sounding similar to music from spy movies and old ganster movies. I won't give too much more of the plot away for fear of spoiling it for those players who decide to pick up this game. It's the style that keeps the player watching, and the plot that keeps the player going, that sense of, "What's going to happen next? What the hell is going on? And what does it mean?"

I believe the game got the low review scores it did because of a combination of unfamiliarity and violated expectations. On the one hand, its decidedly unique gameplay didn't fit comfortably in any familiar categories, and on the other expectations created by the pre-release hype and trailers were violated.

Movement and shooting in Killer7 is neither the freedom of a Quake, the step-to-the-next-spot choice of Myst, nor the amusement-park-ride-on-rails of House of the Dead, but rather some combination of elements from each. From a movement point of view, the game map consists of lines and intersections. At intersections the player chooses which direction to go next, and while travelling on a line between intersections the player can move forward, stop, and reverse direction at any time. Shooting can be done at any time but requires the player to stand still doing it. This combines the choice-based travel of an adventure game with the rails and shooting of a light-gun game and just a touch of the freedom of an FPS.

Based on the trailers and marketing materials, one could have come to any one of several incorrect conclusions about the nature of the game. One might have thought it was a first-person shooter with RPG elements, and while it does include shooting from a first-person perspective, and RPG-like levelling of attributes, both the restrictive movement and third-person view when not shooting violate FPS norms. Or one might have taken it for an adventure game with a shooting gallery minigame, but movement turns out to be too dynamic for that. Or it could have been a rail shooter, except that the player actually does have some control over movement.

And so some reviewers' expectations were violated, and even those without expectations found themselves in unfamiliar territory, dealing with gameplay as fractured and changeling as the narrative. As videogame reviewers are not, by and large, an intellectual lot, many found themselves unable to fully enjoy it.

I, on the other hand, only purchased the title as a symbolic protest against the anti-game activism of Jack Thompson. I'd heard that it wasn't a good game, and played it thinking that I was going to experience a cookie-cutter near-plotless FPS distinguished only by extreme amounts of violence, blood, gore, and possibly sex.

Boy was I wrong.

On a purely gameplay level Killer7 is only mediocre despite its innovative blend of styles. But taken as a total experience, it offers far more food for thought and emotion than yet another military shooter or swords-and-sorcery RPG.

There are two aspects of the game that I think could stand some improvement. The map could be more informative, and the help could be far better integrated into the gameplay.

The map is good in that it shows you where certain vital objects are, which personality you need to get past certain parts, which areas you've already visited (colored green), and which area you're in (colored yellow). But its single failing is that there's no you-are-here marker; there's no way to tell from the map where you are within an area. I got lost several times trying to figure out which intersection I was at in an area.

The in-game help is only available from Harman Smith's safe rooms (sometimes containing save points, like towns in RPGs). And the nature of the help violates what should be a primary rule of game design: show don't tell. Instead of showing the player how various features work within the game, the help has one of the ghosts telling how they work. The translations from Japanese to English of the explanations are less than stellar, and are presented at a speaking pace. They can neither be slowed nor sped. Considering how unfamiliar some of the game mechanics are, especially those concerning blood and special abilities, not integrating these features into an optional extended tutorial is a serious error.

To sum up: Killer7 is a terrific game with minor flaws that's not for everyone. But if you like complexity, mystery and especially weirdness in your entertainment, it may well be for you.

Grade: A-

PlayStation 2 (PS2) - Haunting Ground - A Couple Hours In

In a dank, earthen-floored cellar a hulking brute of a man chops raw meat with a large cleaver. A low moan escapes from the nearby cage. He gazes longingly at the figure within, an unconscious young woman covered only by a satin sheet.

The mentally defective monster kneels by the cage's padlocked door and reaches through the bars. As his thick, sausage-like fingers approach her delicate ankle, his nearly toothless mouth opens in an O of excitement. Then suddenly he thinks better of it, withdraws, and exits the cellar.

Some time later, the young woman awakens and looks around in confusion. She finds the cage door's padlock left unfastened and hanging from the latch. She fumbles the lock off the door, opens it, and crawls out as quickly as she can manage. She is free!

For now...

So begins CAPCOM's excursion into Gothic survival horror. With the sensibilities of a Bronté novel and gameplay mechanics like those in their other horror games, CAPCOM has succeeded in doing what Resident Evil was never able to - creep out the player.

When I first sampled this PS2 title in 2005, I put it aside because a particularly annoying gameplay mechanic kept getting me killed. One has few options when confronted by Debilitas, the brute from the game's opening. None of them involve killing him. The best one can do is to run away... terribly fast. And hide. Unfortunately, any given hiding spot will only fool Debilitas once. So I died often.

In my more recent gameplay sessions I used a little more intelligence and had far better results. Instead of coming out of hiding as soon as the ''Coast Clear" message popped up on the screen, I waited a few extra seconds to make sure my enemy was out of earshot as well as out of view. I also made sure I left the room in the opposite direction from the enemy. This gave me a lot more time to explore and solve the puzzles before Debilitas found me again.

Having had more time to explore the game, I must say it's pretty enjoyable. I wouldn't rate it as scary as Silent Hill, but it does surpass Resident Evil in the thrills and chills department. There are things I like about it and things I don't, and I'll discuss those next.

On the plus side, the presentation is all top-notch. Despite having 3D backgrounds, all the textures in the game appear detailed rather than blurry. There is no HUD; information about your character is communicated through full-screen contrast effects and gameplay changes, increasing immersion. The sound, music and background noises are all suitably creepy and go a long way to enhance the atmosphere. The art design is suitably Gothic in tone. Load times between rooms are virtually unnoticeable, much as in Ico. Animations are smooth enough that what jerkiness there is doesn't enter into the player's consciousness.

Also on the positive side are some of the gameplay aspects. The run-and-hide feature, as well as the canine companion, open new storytelling possibilities for the developer. Instead of having to make the protagonist some kind of heavily armed super-soldier to give her a chance of survival, he can make her an ordinary person who must repeatedly choose flight over fight in order to survive. The dog can help her solve puzzles and slow down attackers.

On the down side, these gameplay innovations are badly implemented, poorly balanced, and not well-integrated with the rest of the game. The dog's pathfinding is broken; it has trouble making its way to the player when called, sometimes even when it's in the same room. The hiding feature is poorly balanced. There aren't very many places to hide, and the inability to use the same hiding place more than once means that the player is very likely to run out of them long before he runs out of enemy encounters. It's also badly integrated. Several other methods of evading and slowing down enemies are provided, making the run-and-hide feature less vital than it could have been.

To sum up, Haunting Ground is an enjoyable but flawed Gothic horror experience, better than it might have been but not as good as it could have been.

Grade: B

Friday, July 06, 2007

Quick Impressions As Of July 5, 2007

Here are some more quick game impressions for the recently played:

  • DS: GoldenEye Rogue Agent

    Completed Fort Knox mission, about an hour in. I hope it gets better soon, because right now it's pretty dull. It's marginally better than, say, Coded Arms, but that ain't saying much. C-

  • GBA: Advance Wars

    Three or four hours in, including the tutorials. This game is way more fun than it has any right to be. It's a turn-based strategy game, and it's a hoot. Even the extensive tutorials are enjoyable. Besides the actual gameplay being good, the interface is elegant, and every aspect of the presentation displays a sense of light-hearted fun. A+

  • GBA: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

    Three battles (about one hour) in. I originally avoided buying this because I already had Final Fantasy Tactics for the PS1 and, based on the title, believed this to be a straight port. It's not. The main action takes place in the same world as FFT, but in a different time period and framed by a Neverending Story-like plot about a magic book in the "real world." The gameplay is fundamentally similar with a few tweaks here and there. If you enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics, you'll like this one too. I did. B+

  • PC: Tomb Raider Anniversary

    Several hours in. This game is a blast. It preserves everything that made the first Tomb Raider such fun while updating the graphics, gameplay and level design to take advantage of what the Tomb Raider Legend engine can offer. Disclaimer: I'm a Tomb Raider fan and enjoyed (and finished!) Angel of Darkness. A+

  • PS1: Air Combat

    A couple of missions in. This game is the first in the Ace Combat series, reasonably enjoyable, but all of the sequels are better. This was one of the Playstation's launch titles, and as a result has no analog control. The graphics are good for a 1995 release, but are far surpassed even by the later Playstation titles (Ace Combat 2 and Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere). The only real reason to pick this up is in order to complete your set of Ace Combat games, or to fill in that piece of the series story. C+

  • PS1: Ace Combat 2

    A few missions in. Fun game. Very good graphics for a PS1 game. It's not as pretty as its PS2 siblings, but the gameplay is fundamentally the same. Like the other titles in the series, it provides enough simulation elements to be interesting and enough arcade gameplay simplifications to make it fun. B

  • PS1: Chrono Cross

    A couple of hours in. Pretty good RPG. Interesting story involving time travel and alternate timelines. The combat system has some interesting innovations and the presentation is well done. B+

  • PS2: Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies

    Several missions in. This game is a blast. It's the first Ace Combat title for the Playstation 2, and despite its age it still looks and plays great. A

  • PS2: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

    Several hours in. Fun game. This is more like Diablo or Rogue than it is the earlier semi-turn-based Forgotten Realms titles such as Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale. It does employ the same Advanced Dungeons & Dragons-based ruleset as the others. Graphics, sound, voice work, gameplay, controls, and writing are all top-notch, though the plot seems a bit pedestrian. A-

  • PS2: Gran Turismo 4

    Several hours in. A really good game. It still defines the car racing genre. The (cheaty) 1080i support is nice, sound is great, gameplay is great, driving wheel support is great, etc., etc. It's so good in so many ways that it's easier to list its few flaws. The main menu is a mess; Gran Turismo 3's was far superior. I don't like license tests; I want to race. There's no online racing. There's no damage model. There are no Ferraris or Porsches. The concept cars can't be used in races. A-

  • PS2: Ico

    Finished it twice. Like Shadow of the Colossus, it's a sublime work of art. Of course not all art is to everyone's taste; there is much that's not to mine. Go read some full length reviews, then decide for yourself. A+

  • PS2: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

    About an hour in, just past the tutorial. It's enjoyable, a pretty standard 3D platformer with double jumps, power-ups, collectibles, and a variety of combat moves. What sets it apart is its sense of humor. What diminishes it are the camera controls, which seem backwards to me (e.g. push stick left to look to the right) and are not customizable. B+

  • PS2: Medal of Honor: Frontline

    A couple of hours in. Fantastic game. The opening sequence alone, which has the player assaulting the Normandy beach on D-Day, makes it worth picking up. At the time of release the graphics, sound, and rumble were nothing short of jaw-dropping. They still look pretty good. A

  • PS2: Tomb Raider Anniversary

    This is identical to the PC version, save for the graphics. They're of necessity of lower quality, given the platform. Still, it looks and plays great. A+

  • PSP: Crush

    Just past the tutorial and first couple of missions. This is a fun puzzler and platformer. It's more puzzle than platform, and the 3D->2D crush gimmick adds an extra, er, dimension to the gameplay. I'm enjoying helping the insomniac Danny wander around inside his own psyche, looking for his marbles. B+

  • PSP: Daxter

    Several hours in. It's a hoot. This entry in the Jak and Daxter series focusses on the sidekick and has him battling increasingly dangerous bug infestations. It's funny and inventive, full of Daxter's wiseacre humor. Great platformer. B+

  • PSP: Tomb Raider Legend

    About halfway through. It's good. This game on PC and consoles breathes new life into the Tomb Raider series with its updated control scheme and Prince of Persia-inspired moves. This portable version is not the equal of those on other platforms, in large part because the PSP offers fewer buttons. But despite that, graphics and gameplay are fundamentally intact. I'm enjoying it. A

  • PSP: Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth

    About two hours in. Enjoyable RPG. It has an interesting storyline, an innovative combat system, fun 2D platforming play, and a good-quality presentation. It has a few minor quirks and drawbacks, but overall it's worth the time of RPG fans. B

  • Xbox: Mafia

    About an hour in. It's pretty good. Other reviews have complained about the presentation quality when compared to the PC version, but I don't find it bothersome. Gameplay is GTA-like, and the story follows a cabbie who is unwillingly drawn into a life of crime in the families. B+

  • Xbox: Manhunt

    About an hour in. I don't know if I'd call it fun, but the game does hold one's interest. The player steps into the prison shoes of James Earl Cash, just after his botched execution. Cash must escape but can only do so by satisfying a snuff film director who controls all the doors. He must kill gang members in various gruesome ways to get the Director to let him proceed. A cynical and thought-provoking look at violent media and our relationship to it as consumers. B+

  • Xbox 360: Aegis Wing

    This is a side-scrolling arcade shoot-em-up in the same vein as R-Type. It's fun, but hard. Definitely worth the money, as it's a free download on Xbox Live Arcade. B

  • Xbox 360: DiRT

    About an hour in, unlocked the second tier in career mode. This game is a blast. I don't know how realistic the physics are, but it's certainly lots of fun to play. Every aspect of the presentation, from the menus to the graphics during racing, has been polished to a high sheen. Gorgeous. Fun. A+

  • Xbox 360: Geometry Wars Retro Evolved

    This is a clone of the old arcade classic Robotron 2084. It's fun, but hard. It might be a little much for my aging reflexes. B

  • Xbox 360: The Godfather: The Game

    About a half hour in, just past the fighting tutorial. It looks pretty good. The recognizable likenesses and music from the movies are a treat, as is the recognizable New York City. Gameplay, as in Mafia, is GTA-like and pretty fun. There appear to be more nuances and complexities than in Mafia, but introduced slowly enough not to overwhelm the player. I'm looking forward to working my way up to being the Don of Dons and wiping out the other families. A-

  • Xbox 360: Overlord

    About an hour in, seen more (girlfriend playing). This game rocks. Be the evil Overlord! Summon minions from the depths! Set them on your enemies! Subjugate villagers! Slay heroes! Today the village, tomorrow the world! Buwahahahahahaha! A

  • Xbox 360: Prince of Persia Classic

    Completed the first level. Fun. This Xbox Live Arcade facelift to the 1987 classic gives it 3d graphics while preserving the 2D platforming gameplay and level design of the original. I've had a blast with it. A

Saturday, June 30, 2007

PS2 + Joytech + LiIon = Bust

I've been trying to put together a "lazy man's" ps2 portable using off the shelf parts and as little hackage as possible.

I bought a Joytech 8" PS2 screen and it worked great (except for two bad pixels - of course it's only replaceable under warranty if three are bad).

I bought the same universal rechargeable battery that Benjamin Heckendorn did, and it worked great too, up to a point. The default tip on the battery's output power cable fit nicely into the Joytech's power socket, and the PS2 and screen powered up nicely.

The problem came when I attempted to use a disk. Apparently the Joytech screen uses more power than the PSOne screen Mr. Heckendorn used, because as soon as I tried to start a game the system died and reset. I found that I could start a game with the screen off, or run the system with no disk, but that the combination of DVD-ROM activity and the screen drew more power than the battery could deliver.

At this point my plan is to purchase a second battery, and splice the power output cables together in parallel so I get the same voltage but double the amperage. That should provide enough current flow to power the system. Unfortunately that means two wall adapters for the batteries. I'd splice those in parallel as well, but suspect that charging both batteries from a single wall wart would double charging time.

Once I have a working setup, I'll probably velcro the batteries to the underside of the ps2, though I have concerns about heat dissipation. It may end up being safer to leave them detached from the ps2, in which case I'll velcro them to each other.

The other drawback I noticed was that the universal battery won't output power while it's being charged. This means you have to drag along the ps2's brick if you want to play while recharching the batteries.

Sweet, Sweet Candy

Forza Motorsport 2 was released about a month ago on my birthday, and I was playing it two days later. Nice birthday present, Microsoft! This game is like sweet, sweet candy. For me, it easily surpasses both Project Gotham Racing 3 and Gran Turismo 4. It beats the former by having car upgrades, a damage model that affects performance, and no Kudo Challenges. It beats the latter by having visuals on a par with PGR3, a damage model, a better selection of licensed cars, and no license tests. Some players enjoy Kudo Challenges and License Tests, but for those of us who just want to race fast cars, Forza Motorsport 2 offers the pure, un-stepped-on product ready for direct venous injection. Untie that belt and let it ride, baby. A

Minor drawback for the above: Like the first game, Forza Motorsport 2 has uncopyable saves. None of my usual workarounds permit me to make a backup of the saved game. Well, I have a memory-card-to-PC cable and program, so I'll be giving that a try later. See my earlier rant on Unsafe Saves for why I think it's a bad design decision.

I picked up the Xbox version of Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection over the following weekend and tried it out. It's enjoyable, with a little more of the table visible than in the PSP version. It also has one major difference: All the tables are available from the beginning. None of them have to be unlocked. Much better. A-

In preparation for a LAN party I was sadly unable to attend, I picked up Serious Sam and Unreal Tournament 2003. There were few surprises to be had from either title, as I have their sequels. Both are light on story and heavy on action, which is just what I want at a LAN party. B+

I've finished Final Fantasy X. Highly enjoyable. I watched the final cutscene with satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, and the end of the story brough a touch of mist to my eye. I will say that the story's end is very... Japanese. Those who've seen Space Battleship Yamato or Akira or Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within know what I'm talking about. However much I enjoyed it, I'm not keen to play it again immediately. I don't have the OCD necessary to complete every sidequest and obtain every item, wringing an ever-decreasing trickle of enjoyment from the game's fabric, at last leaving a dry and withered husk, crumbling to dust at the lightest touch. B+

I've liberally sampled Final Fantasy X-2. While I like the upbeat attitude and energy which is a refreshing and welcome change from the grim fatalism of Final Fantasy X, the combat system is retarded. I can't begin to choose an action until the character's time bar is recharged, and then have to pick it from menus in realtime. Meanwhile, enemies get to attack the instant their bars are charged. The platforming bits are not particularly well done either. But it is nice to see enemies before you encounter them rather than having the traditional random encounters. B

I'm about 20 hours into Final Fantasy XII. I'm enjoying this one as much as or more than X. It's less of a doomed world story and more of a rebellion against evil empire story. It's pretty fun so far. The new combat system is what X-2's should have been; you can pick your attack any time, and that attack hits every time your bar fills. And everything pauses the instant you go into the menus to change your attack (though this pause is optional). So it's very similar to what's found in MMORPGs. I personally don't find it as visually pretty as X or X-2. The requirement to show more things on the screen at once and have 3-D backgrounds means that the textures must be lower-res. A-

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Quick Impressions: Recently Played Games

Review: Here are some quick impressions of games I've been playing in the last few months, with letter grades:

  • Nintendo DS: Metroid Prime Hunters

    About 15 minutes in. Looks and plays just like Metroid Prime on the GameCube. Pretty fun. A-

  • Nintendo GameCube: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

    About a half hour in. Good graphics considering the platform. So far it seems similar to Ocarina of Time but somewhat more grown-up. Don't like the horse as much as Agro from Shadow of the Colossus; the animations, especially the transitions between animations, are not as good. B+

  • PC: Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

    Played through the tutorial. Looks like fun. Reminds me of Ground Control. A-

  • PC: Doom3

    Completed on normal difficulty. Okay shooter, outstanding graphics. B

  • PC: Doom3: Resurrection of Evil

    A few hours in. It's much like Doom3; see pretty graphics, enter dark room, things attack from behind and in front, shoot them, continue to next dark room. It's okay but not spectacular. And everything looks just a little too shiny. B

  • PC: Galactic Civilizations

    About five minutes in. Looks and plays much like Galactic Civilizations II, which I got first. Pretty graphics, turn-based gameplay like Civilization or Alpha Centauri but in space, factions, etc. Looks pretty good. B+

  • PC: Rhem

    About 20 minutes in. Disappointed. Was expecting Myst and got something less. Glad it was cheap. D

  • PS2: Burnout 3 Takedown

    Lots of fun. Two words: road rage. The rush when you engage boost mode will scorch your face and blow your eyeballs back into your brain. A

  • PS2: Burnout Revenge

    Fun fun. Two words: traffic checking. The rush when you engage boost mode will scorch your face and blow your eyeballs back into your brain. A

  • PS2: Dragon Quest 8

    Several hours in. Pretty fun. Fairly standard pure turn-based JRPG fare but well-balanced, highly polished, and with a nice Dragonball anime art style that works well with the PS2's graphical limitations. A-

  • PS2: Final Fantasy X

    Around 80% of the way through. Engrossing, entertaining game. Production values are top-notch. The story and characters are well-done, even for a Western audience. Could do without the unskippable cutscenes (and there are a lot of them) and the overly complex levelling and crafting systems. But these are minor drawbacks. B+

  • PS2: Flatout 2

    Fun. Demolition derby is a blast, racing is fun, and ragdoll stunts are a hoot. A-

  • PS2: God of War II

    About 15 minutes in. Looks like more of the same as God of War, and that's a good thing. Greek myth plus outstanding gameplay equals gaming goodness. A

  • PS2: Guitar Hero

    Finished on easy, replaying for perfection. It's a blast. Super fun. A

  • PS2: Guitar Hero II

    Played a bunch of songs in "quick play" mode. It's a blast. Super fun. The addition of practice mode and two-player jamming makes it a bit better than the first. A

  • PS2: James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing

    About an hour in. Fun game. Good cover mechanic. First mission (Egypt) is really hard, even on the easiest difficulty available. It's like being in a Bond movie. Series regulars and Hollywood stars lend their voices and likenesses, including Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Richard Kiel, Shannon Elizabeth, and Willem Dafoe. A

  • PS2: Rogue Galaxy

    A couple of hours in - off the desert planet and into space. It's a pretty standard JRPG, so far. Combat is real-time. A reasonably fun science fantasy. B

  • PS2: Shadow of the Colossus

    Finished once. Replaying to make machinima. This game is a work of art; sublime. Less than a full review cannot do it justice. Play it and see for yourself. A+

  • PS2: Star Trek Encounters

    Completed tutorial and first two or three missions. Not fun. Control scheme is a mess, and the addition of the third dimension is poorly handled. Should have left the three-level third dimension off. D

  • PSP: Burnout Legends

    About 15% complete. Looks and plays much like Burnout 3: Takedown. Fun. Minor quibble: where are the car stats? A-

  • PSP: Coded Arms

    An hour or two in. Poor attempt at a first-person shooter. None of the control schemes compensate well for the platform's lack of a second analog input. Something like the scheme in Metroid Prime or Tomb Raider Legend would have worked but they didn't do that. The game is also an object lesson in the pitfalls of randomly-generated content; all the levels seem pretty much the same, lacking tactical interest. Dull. D

  • PSP: Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

    About an hour in. Fun and funny. Within the limitations of the platform, plays just like GTA3. B+

  • PSP: Killzone Liberation

    About 20 minutes in. Seems okay so far. Interesting game design - isometric view, but still a shooter. B

  • PSP: Me and My Katamari

    Completed first two missions. Pretty fun. Plays much like Katamari Damacy, but the controls don't work as well because of the PSP's lack of a second analog nub. B

  • PSP: Metal Gear Acid 2

    About halfway through. It's okay. Not as fun as the first game, somehow. Same card-based RPG action. Maybe it's the cartoony art style. B

  • PSP: Pinball Hall of Fame: Gottlieb Collection

    Great for pinball fans. Authentic tables. Quick pick-up-and-play. Some platform related limitations. Fun. Don't like having to earn tokens to play Black Hole. Genie is a blast. B+

  • Xbox: Battlestar Galactica

    About an hour in. I've enjoyed it quite a lot, but then I'm a fan of mission-based space fighter games. It follows in the tradition of games like X-Wing, Wing Commander, Freespace, Starlancer, and Star Wars Starfighter. In that tradition, there's no in-mission save, and some of the missions are long and difficult. So it's not for everyone. B+

  • Xbox: Beyond Good and Evil

    Several hours in. It's a fairly enjoyable game. I'm not as fond of it as some of its more vocal fans. I found its mix of children's themes (cartoon talking animals) and adult themes (your protectors in league with your enemies) mildly offputting. Good gameplay though; the ideas are well-executed. C

  • Xbox: Black

    About an hour in. Gameplay is a blast (literally!). Cutscenes are over-the-top silly, too long, and (worst of all) unskippable. B

  • Xbox: Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

    A few hours in. Creepy. Best chase scene in any game. Best heartbeat vibration effect. Really good story. Voicework pretty good. Slightly subpar graphics but gameplay and story more than make up for it. Very good LOD. A-

  • Xbox: Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge

    A couple hours in. It's a blast, but then I love flying games. It's fun on Xbox Live as well, but I am not yet worthy to travel in their company. A

  • Xbox: Destroy All Humans

    About four hours in. Fun and funny. Lampoons the politics, popular culture and morés of the U.S.A. of the 1950's. Penalty for dying is having to restart the mission - that is, very little. A-

  • Xbox: Fatal Frame

    About three hours in. Creepy. Scary. Well worth playing. A

  • Xbox: Halo 2

    Finished on Easy, replaying on Legendary. Excellent shooter, though not quite as good as Halo: Combat Evolved. The story is not as coherent. The cliffhanger ending didn't bother me as much as it did some fans. A-

  • Xbox: The Matrix: Path of Neo

    Completed first mission and part of second. Okay so far, controls a little loose. Okay cover mechanic. Not as fun as Enter The Matrix. C+

  • Xbox: Ninja Gaiden Black

    Almost completed first/tutorial level. Lots of fun. The first boss is very hard. A-

  • Xbox: Quantum Redshift

    Just started. This game plays and looks just like the WipEout games for the PlayStation. I love those games, so this is a good thing. B+

  • Xbox: Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

    About an hour in. Nifty 3rd-person action game. Combines platforming and puzzle-solving with themes from ancient Egyptian mythology. Zelda-like in some ways. Enjoyable. B+

  • Xbox 360: Burnout Revenge

    Fun. Fun. Fun. Two words: traffic checking. The rush when you engage boost mode will melt your face off and blow your eyeballs out the back of your skull. A+

  • Xbox 360: Condemned Criminal Origins

    A few hours in. Seems to be getting a little repetitious. Follow serial killer, beat drug-crazed attackers to death. Rinse, repeat. Environments don't vary too much. Good presentation, solid gameplay. C+

  • Xbox 360: Crackdown

    About a quarter of the way in. Super fun. GTA-style cartoony graphics work well. It's a blast to leap a tall building in a single bound while getting a headshot on a crook, or throwing a dumpster into a crowd of criminals. No real penalty for dying. A-

  • Xbox 360: Dead Rising

    A couple of hours in, sort of. A blast. GTA with zombies and RPG-style leveling. Being able to restart the game while keeping your level is a fun twist. A

  • Xbox 360: Far Cry Instincts Predator

    About an hour in. Pretty fun. Nifty jeep escape sequence. Gorgeous environments. Hard. B+

  • Xbox 360: Gears of War

    Completed story on Casual. This is a fun shooter. No one aspect of the game is a new innovation, but every aspect (except possibly the plot) is best-of-breed. And all the parts mesh seamlessly to create an outstanding gameplay experience. A

  • Xbox 360: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter

    Finished first mission. Fantastic looking and playing game. Good cover mechanic. Tons of fun. A

  • Xbox 360: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

    Finished tutorial, started first mission. Seems much like the first, with some minor graphical and gameplay improvements. Challenging and fun. Good game. A

  • Xbox 360: Need for Speed: Most Wanted

    About a third of the way through. This game is fun. I enjoy the GTA-like open city aspect. The graphics are very good, the cars are slick and the tuning aspect is well done. Races are fun and evading the cops is even more fun. B+

  • Xbox 360: Oblivion

    Main quest completed, now playing the expansion and mods. Beautiful. Engrossing. Immersive. Addictive. Entertaining. Fun. Play. This. Game. A

  • Xbox 360: Perfect Dark Zero

    Completed first storyline mission (nightclub). Fair shooter. Good cover mechanic. B

  • Xbox 360: Pinball FX

    Okay pinball simulator. Tables invented for the game, none taken from real life. B-

Shadow of the Colossus: Machinima May Be Cheap But It Ain't Easy

I've been working on a machinima movie version of Shadow of the Colossus. I did some work on it last year, then put it aside. Now I've started shooting again, and am reminded of how difficult some aspects of making a movie like this are.

I'm going to tell you what the hardest part of making this movie is, starting with the other parts that weren't quite as hard.

It wasn't finding an affordable capture device. The WinFast TV USB II Deluxe does a quite adequate job of capturing SD content, at a reasonable price.

It wasn't finding an affordable editing solution. Between VirtualDubMod, AviSynth, and the wealth of filters available for both, capturing, cutting and processing the footage is reasonable if not easy.

It wasn't finding an affordable solution for authoring a high-quality DVD (my target medium). TheFilmMachine allowed me to use encoding bitrates above the limits set by consumer products like those from Sonic or ULead, and between IfoEdit and DVDPatcher I was able to properly mark my video as 16:9 anamorphic widescreen so that all players would handle it properly (something the consumer DVD-authoring products won't do reliably).

It wasn't beating each colossus gracefully and quickly in a single camera shot, a restriction I'm limited to because the music can't be turned off or down.

It wasn't even trying to play the game and manage the camera at the same time, or doing trick camera shots to eliminate the main character from a shot.

No, what is hard is trying to get on the thrice-damned horse! I'd been trying to get the second colossus in a single shot, and made more than twenty attempts before giving up. Sometimes I made Wander tiptoe when he should have run, other times I made mistakes when attacking the colossus, and so on. But the vast majority of the shot-killers were when I tried to get Wander to mount the horse, and instead he ended up leaping through the air next to it. Even with the jump-and-grab trick, I miss the horse more than half the time. It looks ridiculous.

So now I'm going to shoot each colossus in segments, and make sure than any necessary horse-mounting comes at the beginning of a shot. That way, if I muff it, I can immediately retry rather than re-shoot the several minutes that come before it.

Wanted: An Overlay Filesystem for Windows

One of the biggest advantages of game consoles over PCs is ease of use. Consider all that's often required to play a game for the first time on a PC:

  • Before buying check to make sure your PC meets the minimum requirements for the game.
  • Make sure your hardware drivers are all up to date (or out of date if newer drivers have problems with that particular game).
  • Defrag your hard drive.
  • Install the game.
  • Find and install any patches so that the game has a chance of working without glitchiness
  • Tweak all the game settings for your hardware, carefully balancing video, audio and gameplay quality against framerate.
  • Make sure the game CD is in the drive.
  • Play.
Compare this to what's usually required to play a game for a console:
  • Make sure the game is for your console.
  • Make sure you have a memory device for your game saves.
  • Put the game in the console.
  • Play.
Even on subsequent plays, the PC suffers in usability because upgrades to hardware, drivers or other software can render a game unrunnable. And the game will always take up a significant amount of space (several gigabytes for recent titles) on the hard drive.

If you have a hundred console games, you might need a few memory cards, but that's all. But if you have a hundred PC games, you're going to need a hard drive with 200 gigabytes or more of free space to install them. Or you're going to have to give up the ability to choose which game to play on a whim, and instead carefully choose which games you leave installed.

It doesn't have to be that way. Well, the hardware variation issue isn't going to be solved any time soon. But there isn't any reason why games should have to be installed and consume large amounts of hard drive space. There are some existing games that only store saves, configuration information and patches on the hard drive. Some of those don't even require installation. Here are a few titles I own that (can) leave their content on the CD-ROM:

  • Tomb Raider (#2 - #5)
  • Wing Commander 3
  • Some titles in the Myst series
  • Atari Anniversary Edition

Microsoft's ''Games for Windows" initiative is meant to deal with exactly this problem by making PC games run the same way that console ones do. Halo 2 for Windows Vista will not require installation but will load from the DVD just like its console cousin. This is terrific, but it only helps with new games. What about your existing library?

That's where an overlay file system comes in. Conceptually, it's like a transparency laid over a sheet of paper. When you first read it, what you see is the text on the underlying paper. But anything you write goes on the transparency, and when you next read it, what you see is mostly the underlying text except where it's obscured by the new writing.

With such a filesystem, one could:

  • Install the game
  • Burn a DVD-ROM with the contents of the installation folder
  • Delete the contents of the installation folder
  • Make the installation folder the transparency over the DVD-ROM drive
After this, attempts to read from the game installation folder would be redirected to the dvd if the file isn't found there. And attempts to write to the installation folder (for instance, for save games or configuration data) would go there and overlay the old versions residing on the DVD-ROM.

So the game would play off the DVD-ROM, while configuration data and saves would go on the hard drive. The only drawback would be the decreased file reading speed.

There is such a filesystem already for Linux called unionfs (and a newer less buggy version called aufs). It's how the Knoppix distro of Linux runs from DVD while keeping user data on the hard drive.

Now if we Windows users could just get a little of that love... :)

Gran Turismo 4's Useless Strategy Guide

When I buy a strategy guide, I have certain expectations. First I look for the lists. There should be lists of items in the game, lists of unlocks and their conditions, and lists of various statistics. Then I seek out the tips and tricks - advice on how to play the game better, legitimate play strategies for beating enemies or accumulating in-game goodies. Next there should be cheats, including such things as in-game backdoor codes, cheat device codes, and game glitch exploits. Finally the guide should include one or more walkthroughs, step-by-step instructions on how to get from the beginning of the game to the end.

By these standards, Prima's guide for Gran Turismo 4 falls short. It's got plenty of lists and statistics, but its gameplay advice provides little more than does the in-game text, and nary a cheat nor a walkthrough is to be found. In the case of cheats it can be argued that there really aren't any for Gran Turismo 4, and anyway one wouldn't expect to find them in an official game guide. Gameplay advice and walkthroughs are a different matter.

I suppose that it was a wise decision for Prima not to sell the book as a strategy guide, for there is precious little of that in it. As I mentioned, the gameplay advice is pretty much what can be found in the game itself. There is no walkthrough of any kind. Sadly, I was able to find more and better advice for free on the Internet than in this $17 book.

I took that free knowledge and did a little research of my own. I replayed GT4 from the beginning and took notes. You can find the results here in my blog article, The Lazy Gamer's Guide to Gran Turismo 4.

A final note: If anyone is wondering whether the official guide for Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is any better, well, it isn't. In fact, the two guides are so similar that they look like they were authored by the same people, despite being from different publishers.

My Halo Heresy: Bungie's Mistakes

On the Halo Story Page and in the Halo forums the participants can be seen dissecting every piece of minutia that comes from Bungie. Posters derive long chains of reasoning and speculation from the tiniest details of the games, books, the graphic novel, and interviews with Bungie employees - the material considered canonical. Here I commit sacrilege:

  • Bungie makes mistakes.
  • Story continuity is not Bungie's primary concern.
Evidence follows.

Here are nine items, each of which supports one or the other of the two claims above. Each can with sufficient effort be explained away, but not without straining the bounds of credulity. In each case a more likely explanation is the one I propose.

  1. Continuity: No Brutes or Drones in Halo: Combat Evolved

    The Brutes and Drones are nowhere to be found in Halo, but are common in Halo 2, which occurs only a month later. There have been attempts to explain this away, but none seem very likely. Let's examine these:

    • The Brutes and Drones have only recently joined the Covenant, and have only just begun to be deployed on Covenant vessels.

      I'd have an easier time believing this if there were only a very few of them in evidence in Halo 2. But they're already more common than Hunters.

    • Brutes and Drones were not previously trusted enough to serve on Covenant ships.

      If that were true, that isn't the sort of thing that happens all at once. Trust takes a generation or more for a new subject race to earn. But even that doesn't make sense; in any empire built on subjugation -- as the Covenant is -- the first thing that a new member of the empire gets to do is to serve as cannon fodder.

    • The ages-long feud between the Elites and the Brutes precludes them serving on the same ship, in the same fleet, or even in the same chain of command.

      ...which is flatly contradicted by events in Halo 2; Elites and Brutes worked together (at the mining platform and on Delta Halo) until the Prophet of Regret was killed. And even if this were the case, it doesn't explain the absence in Halo of the Drones.

    • There just didn't happen to be any Brutes or Drones in the portion of the Covenant fleet that went to Halo.

      Coincidence? Now there's a likely explanation. In which case you'd need to also explain why they didn't appear in The Fall of Reach, which is supposed to be consistent with the "Halo Bible".

    No, the most likely explanation is the one that's outside the story. The game developers wanted to give the player new enemies to fight. So they invented a couple and then did their best to backfit them into the storyline, with limited success. The reason that the story bits presented for the Brutes don't seem to fit with the events seen in Halo is that they don't. They're not so much explanations as rationalizations.

    In the beginning of the "Et Tu, Brute" video documentary a Bungie developer comments that the Brutes were introduced too late in the development of Halo 2 and were not well thought out. This suggests that the Brutes, maybe the Drones, and possibly the entire Covenant civil war, were not in the Halo Bible prior to the development of Halo 2.

    In the universe of Halo: Combat Evolved, Brutes and Drones simply didn't exist.

  2. Continuity: Brute Changes for Halo 3

    The video documentary on Brutes introduced us to new behaviors, uniforms, and group tactics for Brute warriors. The absence of these in Halo 2 poses the same problem that the absence of Brutes did in Halo: Combat Evolved. The same arguments and counter-arguments apply.

  3. Mistake: Covenant knowledge of Earth

    By the end of First Strike, it's clear that the Covenant knows that the location of the human homeworld is Earth. Yet in Halo 2, only six ships show up, and it becomes clear from their radio chatter that they came to Earth expecting to find something, but not humanity.

    What appears to have actually happened is that Halo 2 was originally meant to be the conclusion of the story. Bungie made a mistake in the development process and as a result had to reduce the scope of the story, cutting the last three chapters, moving that part of the story to a third game, and also moving the main invasion of Earth there.

    Bungie's development mistake is an idea supported by interviews with Halo 2 devs in which they admitted spending so much time producing the new game engine that they were left short of time for content and polish.

  4. Mistake: Cortana's First Insertion into Master Chief's Armor

    In The Fall of Reach, which takes place before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, Cortana is inserted into Master Chief's armor during its testing. Yet at the beginning of the game when she is inserted for the second time, both she and Master Chief react as though it's a new experience.

    "Hmm," she says, "Your architecture isn't much different from the Autumn's." "Don't get any funny ideas," he responds. Her comment makes it clear that she's encountering his suit's computing architecture for the first time, and his indicates that this is the first time he's discussed her potential control of the suit with her.

  5. Continuity: Johnson's "Special Moment"

    Upon completing Halo: Combat Evolved at Legendary difficulty, the player is treated to a special cutscene. Sergeant Johnson and an Elite are wrestling over an assault rifle when they notice that the Pillar of Autumn is about to explode. They stop wrestling, Johnson says, "This is it, baby. Hold me," and they hug(!).

    This scene breaks continuity any way you look at it. I realize it's meant to be a joke, and it is funny, but that's the point; continuity is not Bungie's primary concern. They'll sacrifice it to improve gameplay (Brutes and Drones) or even to make a joke.

  6. Mistake: Johnson's Flood Immunity

    After publication of First Strike, Bungie discovered that the explanation for Johnson's immunity to Flood infection was problematic for their long-term plans for the storyline. So they added a story to The Halo Graphic Novel which presented a contradictory account of Johnson's escape from the flood, and a page of documents, one of which suggests that the prior explanation was a hoax perpetrated on Dr. Halsey by the Office of Naval Intelligence.

    The problem is that even with the fig leaf of an explanation at the back of the graphic novel, the story in it (Breaking Quarantine) still contradicts the account in First Strike. While ONI could have falsified Johnson's service record (and would do so were he a Spartan-I and they wanted to conceal that), what they could not do is falsify the results of Halsey's own tests. She investigated his immunity and found that he had a neurological disorder that prevented Flood from infecting him. How he got the disorder is irrelevant; it's incompatible with the graphic novel's story in which he escaped by means of massive badassery.

    So Bungie made a mistake in allowing an account inconsistent with their overall storyline to make it to publication, and then made another mistake in trying to fix it.

  7. Mistake: Knowing Halo's Name

    No one on the player's side is aware that the ringworld is named Halo until Captain Keyes reveals it on being rescued from the brig of the Truth and Reconciliation. It's clear that it's new information to Cortana, as the first thing she does with it is to search Covenant radio chatter for references to it, which she would have done already had she known its name.

    However, on the Pillar of Autumn's bridge, in the first cutscene of the game, there is a diagram on the main computer display that's clearly labeled "Halo".

  8. Mistake: Cortana's Subspace Remark

    In the first scene of Halo: Combat Evolved, Cortana tells Captain Keyes, "No one could have missed the hole we tore in subspace." That is the first, last, and only reference to "subspace" in the entire Halo corpus. Everywhere else it's called "slipspace". Perhaps Jan Taylor was channeling Star Trek for a moment?

  9. Mistake: Halo's Destruction

    It may have been dramatic for a piece of Halo next to the Autumn's explosion to fly across the ring and smash through the other side, but it was wrong. The Autumn was lodged against the inner surface of the ring, and that factor combined with the ring's rotation would have caused any ring fragments to fly outward.

    Then there's the ring's rigidity. No object of that size is going to show the kind of stiffness shown in the explosion sequence. Even if it were made of scrith the ring would bend and flex like a rubber band when disrupted.

There are more examples to be had, but these are enough to support my thesis.

So I say to all the Halo theorists out there, lighten up! Don't overthink every detail and nuance of the Halo corpus looking for hidden meanings, like some lit-crit professor run amuck (if that isn't redundant). You'll get the answers soon enough, when Halo 3 comes out.

Monday, March 12, 2007

All-Time Picks and Pans Moved to GeoCities

I've deleted my posts listing all-time picks and pans for various platforms. The lists will continue to evolve, so I've decided to move them all to my home pages on GeoCities. Here's the link: All-Time Videogame Picks and Pans