Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Max Payne, Burnout 3, Mercenaries

Max Payne: I ordered the Xbox version of this at the same time as its sequel (cheap!), and it arrived in the mail Tuesday. So now I can give away my PC version and still play on a console.

I had no problems playing it on the Xbox 360, beyond a barely-noticeable hitch when the comic book cutscenes start. I had fun spending an hour with Max. I like this Max better than the one in the sequel. He has an edgier look and a more distinctive face. The Max of the sequel looks more generic, more bland. The world-weariness and sardonic attitude don't show through in sequel-Max's face.

I also like the over-the-top 40's pulp crime story monologues. It goes so far over-the-top that one cannot take it seriously, and edges into parody of the genre. By contrast, the sequel does seem to take itself seriously, and as a result delivers grimness rather than humor. It makes Max Payne 2 less fun.

Don't get me wrong though; I liked both games. I just have a little more love for the first one.

Burnout 3: Takedown: The Picker selected the PS2 version of this for me to play. If I had to summarize this game in two words, I'd choose "bottled fun." With the face-melting sense of speed, the rough and tumble of takedowns, the joy of unlocking even more insanely fast vehicles, the brilliant destruction of crashes, the widescreen 480p graphics you wouldn't have thought possible on a PS2, the energetic music, and the mayhem of online racing and crashing, this game contains the perfect storm of ingredients for making an awesomely fun evening.

I only have two minor complaints to make about Burnout 3. First, the over-excited radio DJ, "Atomica", gets wearisome after a while. Second, the aftertouch camera points in the wrong direction. How can I guide my burning wreck into the path of racers behind me when the camera is looking ahead?

Except for those two tiny items, Burnout 3: Takedown delivers a truckload of fun.

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction: The Picker chose this for me Wednesday night. When I first bought the game, I didn't understand it. I thought it a linear game, with a single path through the objectives and movement outside that path restricted. So I played it that way and got bogged down in killing an inexhaustible supply of enemies.

When I played it Wednesday night I decided to go straight for the next objective and only kill the enemies that got in my way. I soon found that I progressed much faster playing that way, and discovered that the game actually offers an open world with various missions to complete, GTA style.

In fact, if I had to choose a more descriptive name for the game I'd pick something like "GTA North Korea" or "Crackdown North Korea". Instead of a criminal you play a mercenary, instead of a city you have a country, instead of working for criminals you work for the U.N. coalition forces, and instead of doing crimes for pay you capture North Korean war criminals... for pay.

I had a lot of fun with it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Max Payne 2, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Perfect Dark

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne: I ordered this (cheap!) as part of my campaign to replace my PC games with console versions. I found it in my mailbox Sunday, so of course I popped it in to the 360 to see if the game had scratches or data errors, to see if it would run on the 360, and to re-acquaint myself with one of my old favorites.

The disk had a pristine surface and no errors, it played flawlessly in emulation, and I enjoyed an hour of stepping into the shoes of my old friend Max.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance: My random game picker came up with this for its second choice; first it chose a Japanese RPG that would have required more time and brainpower than I wanted to put in.

I put in the 360 version (I also have it for PS2, because I play online co-op with a friend who has it for PS2 as well) and quickly discovered that I didn't have much progress in it. So I started over. I enjoyed playing as Wolverine for an hour, then put it away for another time, satisfied with my progress.

Perfect Dark: On Monday the picker chose this after several unsuitable titles. Playing this on my dusty Nintendo 64 reminded me of just how much developers can get out of limited hardware. I completed much of the Carrington Institute training and the first two levels of the campaign, and had plenty of fun doing it.

The graphics, of course, don't hold a candle to anything current, the limitations of the Nintendo 64 controller make playing a first-person shooter a bit awkward at times, and the voice acting didn't impress, but the overall gameplay still offers a lot of fun and the story promises interesting twists.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Gamer's Diary - GRID, Battlestar Galactica, Black

GRID: Thursday evening I played some more, enough to win the Tuned Pro event. My strategy of restarting races until I win each race in an event continues to work well. But I've become tired of playing the same game too long, and so I've started picking a different game each time I sit down to play.

Battlestar Galactica: Before I talk about it, I should mention which one I played. I played the game released in 2003 for the Xbox and PS2, a space fighter simulator along the lines of Star Wars Starfighter or Wing Commander Prophecy, not the arcade game released for Xbox Live Arcade and PC in 2007.

I didn't put it in meaning to play it for any length of time; I wanted only to verify something I'd noticed before, that engine exhaust flares were incorrectly rendered in the Xbox 360's emulation. I ended up spending a good hour with the game anyway, because I was having fun trying to beat a mission.

Beyond that, I also ran the test I meant to; I played the game on both my original Xbox and my Xbox 360, and discovered that the 360 does in fact misrender exhaust flares. On the Xbox they appear white, as you'd expect, but on the 360 they appear black with a fuzzy white outline. I find it slightly distracting, but have no doubt that once I get used to it I'll stop noticing it altogether.

Black: Since I currently want not to play the same game for any length of time, I needed to pick a new one to play Saturday. I picked randomly from my playlist, and approved of the first one I found: Black. This game has lots of explosions, lots of shooting, and lots of destruction hung on a fairly thin plot. I think it's just the thing to relax with and turn off one's brain, like a fun action movie.

EA released Black to mixed reviews. While reviewers liked the things I've mentioned about it, they also criticized it for its lack of story depth, lack of any hint of multiplayer, and short length. None of those things bothered me about it; I don't care that much about multiplayer, I think too many games get artificially lengthened to satisfy those vocal players with an excess of free time, and a game about shooting things and blowing things up needs about as much plot justification as a pornographic movie. The developers called Black "gun porn" for a reason.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown, Puzzle Quest, GRID

Crackdown: Having beaten the final crime, I set about going after the achievements I mentioned in my last post. I got to the top of the Agency Tower, and I got all my skills to four stars. Then I shelved the game.

I found scaling the tower repeatedly to get the water jump achievement and grinding my skills to max tedious. So I put the game away (for eventual replay - it has lots of fun in it), and found another to put in my playlist: Perfect Dark Zero.

Puzzle Quest: Another hour of grinding roadside encounters, and I'd had enough. I still only have level 23, and need level 26 (25 if my luck is good) to progress on the main quest and some of the side quests. I still had fun with it, but I really wanted to play something else.

GRID: I have reverted to my old racing game tactics. If it looks like I'm going to lose a race, I restart it. Since GRID has no car tuning options (like DiRT and TOCA Race Driver), engineering my way to victory is not an option as it is in series like Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Need for Speed.

By restarting I was able to win both of the demolition derby races, and claim the gold cup for the event. Next up, the Tuned Pro event.

A comment on GRID's design: while it has licenses as does theGran Turismo franchise, it doesn't have GT's tedious and frustrating license tests to get them. Instead, I get licenses by winning races. I like to play to race, and this satisfies that urge. This has, like Forza, much more fun in it than the artificial skill tests in GT (license tests) and Project Gotham (kudos).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown

Friday I defeated the Shai-Gen's last general and started after the final boss, Wang. It annoyed me to discover that I needed a four-star agility rating to reach Wang's rooftop garden, particularly since I'd already climbed halfway there. I spent the rest of my game time grinding that rating by sniping thugs from a rooftop and finding agility orbs.

Saturday I took on Wang and beat him. I found a rocket launcher useful for this. Either a Firefly or Hothead will do. Tip: Don't lock on to the bad guys, shoot the ceiling above them. Then I beat the final crime, and the game treated me to its mildly plot-twisting cutscene.

Next, I quit the campaign, respawned the gangs, and re-entered. I have two achievements I'd like to make before I put the game on the play-again-someday shelf. I'd like to scale the agency tower, and max out all the skills. The first does not require a gang respawn, but the second does. Skills for kills, agent; skills for kills.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Too Human Demo, Tales of Vesperia Demo, Crackdown

Tuesday evening, after gorging on trailers from E3, I tried the demo for Too Human. I had meant to play it for twenty minutes in order to get a taste for it, but ended up spending more than an hour. Needless to say, I enjoyed it. The combination of action gaming and RPG-style levelling, similar to Oblivion or Crackdown, left me deeply satisfied. I have put it on my to-buy list.

Wednesday evening I tried the Tales of Vesperia demo before returning to Crackdown. I liked the combat system - it seems to be pure action rather than a hybrid - and the game looks exceedingly pretty, with an art style somewhere between Dragon Quest 8 and Eternal Sonata. Other than that I found that it had little to offer beyond other RPGs - a story that, at least in the demo, didn't grab my interest, and the usual cast of misfit characters.

After that I spent some time trying again to cl9mb the Agency tower in Crackdown. I can get the SUV to start climbing a wall, but cannot seem to time the button presses right to keep the vehicle stuck to the surface. I think I'll just wait until I have a four-star skill rating in agility, then climb the tower the normal way - on foot.

I finished up the evening by taking down another Shai-Gen general. All I have left is two undiscovered generals, and Wang, the boss of Shai-Gen.

Thursday I tried to take down Shai-Gen's big boss, and discovered I don't have the moxie to do it without ridding him of his generals first. As soon as I began the assault on his HQ, so much fire came from so many directions that it transformed my agent from genetically enhanced supercop to genetically enhanced swiss cheese.

So, while waiting for the next general's dossier to download, I amused myself by scaling a tall tower and sniping random Shai-Gen enforcers. The rooftop cover makes it hard for them to shoot me, and the altitude means I get a small agility bonus for each one I kill.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown

I still have not reached the top of the Agency tower, though I've seen YouTube videos of those that have. One actually drove the Agency SUV (with four star driving skill) straight up the side of the tower. Another did it on foot with four star agility.

I don't have four star agility, but do have four star driving skills, so I think I will make my next attempt in the SUV.

After an unsuccessful attempt Saturday to scale the Agency tower, I directed my attention to the next Shai-Gen general and took him down handily.

Every general has a finite number of guards, and in his HQ alcoves or other bits of cover where an agent can hide to recharge his shields and health. You can keep killing the guards and recharging until no more come, then take on the general alone.

Don't get killed while doing this, or quit the game; either will reset the general and give him a fresh supply of guards.

Finally, to kill generals I like to kick them to death. This might have something to do with my maxed out strength skill.

Sunday I tried scaling the tower with the SUV, and discovered that climbing walls with that vehicle takes more finesse than I have right now. So I switched to assaulting generals and took down another.

Next I shall spend some time learning to climb buildings with the SUV.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown

The Volk I vanquished Thursday. Only the Shai-Gen remain. Not all of Pacific City's three boroughs have a final boss, though they each have a final crime. Los Muertos have a final boss, the Volk have something different.

I found the Volk's final crime easiest to tackle with a vehicle. Preferably one with guns, like the max-level Agency supercar.

Friday I killed the first of the Shai-Gen generals, after spending some time in Los Muertos territory grinding my agility skill. I'm starting to really like the rocket launcher - it fires like a gun, but gives really satisfying explosions and boosts the explosives skill.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown

I finally figured out how to lower the 'drawbridges' to the Volk general's drydocked cargo ship. But I didn't have time to exploit them and reach the villain. I will try again tonight, though I'm getting a little tired of blasting a hundred thugs (or so it seems) every time I assault the docks.

Tip: For those who have trouble when faced by large numbers of enemies, I have discovered a simple trick that will help you take them down without suffering significant damage yourself. For this to work, you need cover higher than your head between yourself and the thugs, and a fully loaded Colby EAR50. It wouldn't hurt to have maxed-out shooting skills as well.

It works like this: Aim in the general direction of your enemies, maybe down a bit. Hold the left trigger and jump. While in the air, make sure you get a lock on an enemy. Once down, target the enemy's head and wait for the targeting reticle to shrink all the way. If the target is a long way away, activate the zoom and max it. Next jump, and when your target appears in your field of vision, shoot. A single headshot will usually do it. Rinse and repeat until all the enemies are gone.

By the way, this technique also works with grenades (except for the body-part targeting and the zoom), and will help you boost your explosives skill.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown

Monday night I put down another couple of Volk generals. Cleaning up this part of Pacific City shouldn't take much longer.

I have discovered, to my delight, that not only can you add commandeered vehicles to your garage, but the Peacekeepers offer (no unlock needed) their own set of snazzy cars and trucks that equal or outperform the Agency equivalents. The Peacekeeper pursuit car, in particular, rocks. It has more speed and better handling than any other vehicle in the game, and it can drive under other vehicles and launch them into the air like the Agency supercar.

I had quite a lot of fun driving the wrong way around the Pacific City highway loop, launching car after car into the sky and earning the hatred of gangs and Peacekeepers alike. I think I have begun to understand why some people skip the story missions in Grand Theft Auto games and just wander around inflicting mayhem on the populace. Severing the traces that bind us to civilized, rational behavior and letting the Id roam free to wreak havoc, even if only in a pretend world, gives us a sense of freedom and wild, savage joy.

Tuesday night I continued my campaign against the Volk generals, but found myself unable to reach the next one. I have so far failed to find a route to get on board the drydocked freighter, where I think he has hidden himself.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown

I spent a fun hour Saturday taking down the Volk's transportation operation. When I want to relax ard have some intellect-free shoot, drive, and blow-stuff-up play,I know which game to get it from.

I spent several more hours Sunday in the game. I have had so much fun with this game that I will probably keep playing until I finish it.

I have found a new favorite weapon in the harpoon gun. It hits instantly like Halo's sniper rifle, has a scope, provides a one-hit kill on most enemies, and then pins the corpse to the wall behind it. Sweet!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Crackdown

When I sat down to play last night, I wanted something different, some game I hadn't played in a while. I picked games at random from my play book until I found one that sparked my interest. I chose Crackdown.

I remembered enjoying it when I'd last played it over a year since, and that it didn't require a large investment in time or mental effort. So I thought it should offer the kind of after-work brain-switched-off half hour of fun I had looked for. I suppose then that irony best describes what happened next, for I spent four hours playing it.

I had forgotten just how much fun this game has in it.

Shooting criminals with a fully automatic assault rifle from insane distances, picking up cars and throwing them at bad guys, running them over with the Agency super car, leaping up the sides of tall buildings in a few bounds, jumping off said building and sniping a thug while in midair, making a Hulk-like dent in the pavement on landing, making a chain reaction of explosions including the cars the crooks hide behind, launching gang vehicles into the sky by driving under them with the supercar - I find very little not to like.

Finally, I really like the art direction. The game producers have done everything up in a semi-cel-shaded comic-book style that integrates well with the game's central premise of a superhero cop who partakes equally of Dirty Harry, Mr. Incredible, and Demolition Man.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gamer's Diary - GRID, Puzzle Quest

GRID - I beat the demo derby event, but haven't won both races yet. I have still a little to do there before I move on to the next event.

Puzzle Quest - I keep grinding away. When I reach level 24, I can rejoin the main quest.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Puzzle Quest, Lego Indiana Jones

Puzzle Quest - Still grinding. Still enjoying grinding.

Lego Indiana Jones - J--- and I played through two more levels. It seems that this game has a shorter playing time than the Lego Star Wars games. Perhaps our familiarity with those games has trained us in its conventions, so that we play through the levels faster. No matter; we still have fun with it.

From a game design point of view, the no-die feature succeeds brilliantly at taking the game-over angst out of the game while leaving the fun intact. Make no mistake though; this game holds little attraction for the hardcore, for the kind of player who exults in beating a level of Ninja Gaiden Black after the 73rd attempt. It makes its only two concessions to the hardcore gamer in the studs mechanic (which provides opportunities to buy in-game bling by performing well), and in the statistics and bonuses it provides for completion junkies.

The drop-in drop-out co-op also increases the game's accessibility for kids while making it a vehicle for adult-child bonding.