Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gamer's Diary - Catching Up

Note: My experiment with E-Prime is over. I can find less excruciating ways to avoid passive voice, when I wish to do so.

The week of Christmas I visited family in another state, so I only took portable games with me. The previous year I took my PS2, but decided not to this time as TSA employees have been known to steal valuables from checked baggage (One got cauight with something like 100 stolen items). I only played one game while on vacation: Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney. Replaying it puts me in mind of rereading a favorite book.

After I returned I resumed playing Ridge Racer 6 and finished the normal races. Shortly after that I realized that I'd grown tired of the game, and put it away. I'll tackle the special and advanced races some other time.

Then I bought as my first new game of the year Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 2. I didn't do more than sample it, as I'd prefer to play it after I complete Episode 1. What little I tried of it suggests that it plays much the same as the first, and continues the story and humor.

I played some more Half-Life: Decay and found myself frustrated by it. The difficulty has increased to the point that I can no longer use it as comfort gaming. So, back into the random playlist it goes.

I don't mention this often (if at all), but I still play Bejeweled 2 in Endless mode on my Xbox 360 and iPaq. It fits perfectly into those moments when I'm waiting in line or on a download etc. and don't care to engage my brain at all. I won't mention it again as I have little to say about it.

For my second new game of the year I picked up Silent Hill Homecoming. I like this series, and Silent Hill 2 has the distinction of convincing me that I could enjoy games in the third person perspective. I much prefer getting creeped out to getting startled; these games have a Lovecraftian atmospheric creepiness as their stock in trade, and I found Homecoming's stockroom full.

This Penny Arcade article, which I came across while reading something else, convinced me that I should give Enchanted Arms a try. Gabe described it as an unabashed pure turn-based JRPG with an interesting story and good presentation, and when I play a JRPG I want exactly that. Also, the price of a used copy has dropped to $20 USD, which fits it nicely into my budget. So I did try the game for an evening, and Gabe totally called it. I'll play it some more after I finish the Silent Hill games I'm in the middle of, or when it comes up in random rotation.

Since then I haven't played much; I've concentrated instead on learning ballroom and swing dancing, cooking, and organizing tax paperwork. I did find time to try a couple of demos and pick up a new Xbox Live Arcade game.

The F.E.A.R. 2; Project Origin demo creeped me out and provided some fun FPS (and mech) action as well. If the rest is as good as the demo, I'm buying.

The Resident Evil 5 demo didn't grab me nearly as well. It didn't frighten me or creep me out, and when my character got killed by the first wave of zombies, I felt neither shock nor fear nor sadness, but rather frustration. I had no desire to restart from the last checkpoint or try the other included level.

I'll probably end up buying the damn thing eventually, because it is, after all, Resident Evil, but that certainly won't be on launch day nor at full price. I'll reveal one little detail as to why:

You can't move and shoot at the same time.

That's right. Aiming your weapon glues your Goddamn feet to the floor. You can still turn, but you can't go anywhere. It's like one of those dreams where you're paralyzed and can't run away, but this time what you want to run away from is the game designer.

I had heard and read good things about The Maw, so I downloaded the trial from Xbox Live Arcade and gave it a go. It's cute and funny and easy and you can't die, so when I reached the sample's end I immediately fed The Maw 800 MS points so it could keep eating. I'll be playing more of this one.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Gamer's Diary - Fallout 3, Ridge Racer 6, Phoenix Wright, Prince of Persia 2008, Persona 4, Ridge Racer V, Fable, Lost Odyssey

Fallout 3: Recently I finished it a second time, in this case completing all the side quests first (except the one that requires the player to enslave others; I played a virtuous character). That done, I decided to let my randomizer pick the next game I'd play, and it picked

Ridge Racer 6: It has simplicity in its structure and gameplay. Some might say it has too much, and that may account for some of the mediocre reviews. Gameplay consists of driving and drifting, and progress of unlocking new cars. It has little else besides multiplayer. But I think the main problem most people have with it lies in its lack of a feeling of speed. Ridge Racer 6 doesn't give the player anywhere near the face-melting sense of velocity that either Burnout 3 or Burnout Revenge does, and not even as much as its own cousin, Ridge Racer for the PSP.

But I enjoy it well enough, the sensation of speed grows as I progress through the car classes, and I am steadily nearing the game's single player finish.

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: I had loaned my copy out and the borrower lost it, so I replaced it. Then I had to play it to make sure it worked. It sucked me in again, and now I play it from time to time in much the same way I reread favorite books. Knowing the answers doesn't lessen my enjoyment at all; instead it allows the story to flow more naturally.

Prince of Persia (2008): I originally felt pretty lukewarm towards this game. The series had gone downhill since The Sands of Time, and I expected more of the same from this next title, but with cel-shading and an artificially stupid companion. Then I read that the platforming and combat flowed naturally, and my interest began to perk up. Then I read that the characters and environments looked beautiful and animated smoothly, having the style not of a cel-shaded cartoon but rather of a painting come to life. Then I read that the developers had created an interesting and well-told story. Then I read that the voice actors had delivered solid performances. Then I read that the player controls the delivery of the story by (optionally) triggering each sentence of dialogue. Then I read that the game had virtually no camera issues, with it almost always placed to show the player what he needs to see. Then I read of the companion AI's elegance, with nary a pathing problem, no need to protect her, and that she never got in the way. I had become very interested. Then I read of hardcore gamer complaints that the game made things too easy for the player.

I bought it.

And all that I had read of it was true, from its art design to its story to its lack of difficulty. Well, not everything; it doesn't "play itself," and there are challenges to overcome, from tricky platforming sections to tough boss fights (well, tricky and tough for me, anyway).

I've enjoyed it immensely, and I consider it a contender for the best new release I've played in 2008.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4: I liked what I'd played of Persona 3 - a lot, and the reviews for Persona 4 glowed, so I picked it up on release day. I've liked what I've played of it so far, despite it lacking 3's gimmick of releasing one's Persona by shooting oneself in the head with a magic gun, or the 25th Dark Hour of universal unconsciousness and stopped clocks at 12:00 midnight. This one will be getting more play.

Ridge Racer V: I popped this into my PS2 to compare it to Ridge Racer 6 and see if I dislike it as much as I remember. And I do. I don't see how it ever managed to get a score of 80. The game runs on the PS2, but has graphics not much better than PS1 games. I have difficulty handling the cars, often crashing into a wall rather than drifting around the curve. I also have trouble keeping up with the degree of difficulty; I haven't been able to win even the first race, and coming in fourth (the minimum placement to progress to the second race) took all my skill.

So to have fun with Ridge Racer V, I recommend this:

  • Remove the game disk from the console.
  • Throw it like a Frisbee. Or,
  • See how many pieces you can break it into.

Fable: The Lost Chapters for Xbox: I'd looked for this one for a while, having had it on my wishlist ever since I found out that the Xbox had it as well as the PC. I found it in a newly opened GameStop near my home. I tried it first on my Xbox 360, as I found it entered on the backwards compatibility list. Sadly it had a framerate on the slow side and would occasionally freeze for a good fraction of a second. I then put it in my original Xbox and it played smooth as butter. I'll play it when it comes up in random rotation. And I expect I'll give away to a friend my PC copy of it, and my Xbox copy of Fable.

Lost Odyssey: I'd had this on my wishlist for some months also, and finally the price dropped to a level I could buy at. Pretty graphics, interesting story, turn-based combat - just my kind of JRPG. It turns out the combat does have a timing-based mini-game, but it doesn't bother me much, as it presents far fewer annoyances than, say, Final Fantasy X. I look forward to playing more of it when it comes up in random rotation.

Gamer's Diary - More Half-Life comfort gaming, X-COM, Fallout series, Fallout 3

Half-Life for PC, Half-Life Source, Half-Life Opposing Force, Half-Life Blue Shift, Half-Life 2 for PC: To make my Half-Life series comfort gaming possible, I set about redownloading and reinstalling these games from Steam. Of course I had to play them all as well to see if they worked, and as a result I spent an entire vacation day with them. I don't regret it though; I discovered that Half-Life Source does not look or play significantly better than the original Half-Life, and rediscovered just how pretty Half-Life 2 still looks, four years later. It doen't have the advanced bump-mapping and shadow-casting of Doom 3, but in every other way (and overall) its presentation looks superior.

X-COM: UFO Defense: I found out that all of the X-COM games have become available through Steam, so I fired it up and bought the entire collection. At $15 USD for five games, I thought it reasonable to check out all of them, despite some having less-than-stellar reviews.

I tried the first game, X-COM: UFO Defense, the one that everyone raves about. I left the others alone, for now. I found that the game has something in common with most games made before the late '90s: The player needs to read the manual before trying to play. The game has no tutorial, and the controls seem less than obvious. It definitely does not go into the "comfort gaming" category. So I put it in my randomized rotation, and will read the manual the next time I play it.

Crossover Games: I installed Ubuntu Linux earlier this year as a dual boot with Windows XP. Now, only when I play games do I boot the Windows partition. So I have an interest in getting my games to run on Linux. To that end, I picked up Codeweavers' Crossover Games on the day Codeweavers made it free. This product provides a compatibility layer for Linux so that Windows games can run.

I then set out to install Steam and all the Half-Life games, which Crossover Games specifically advertises that it works with. Sadly, it doesn't, at least on my system. Attempting to download the games through Steam's My Games interface always results in an error that claims Steam's servers appear too busy. I found a trick to get by that problem, but once Steam finishes downloading the game it won't launch it. It always puts up an error message claiming the game appears unavailable. I don't know what that means, beyond not allowing me to play the game.

Half-Life and Half-Life: Decay for PS2: Having given up on Crossover Games, I returned to the two Half-Life games on the PS2. I found Decay a bit less than restful because of its lack of save-anywhere, so after getting killed in it I played the original Half-Life rather than start the level over. Much more comfortable.

Fallout Tactics for PC and Fallout Brotherhood of Steel for Xbox: Knowing that I would purchase Fallout 3 when released, I decided to complete my collection of Fallout games. I picked up Tactics from Good Old Games, and Brotherhood of Steel from the bargain bin of a local Gamestop. I played the first just long enough to see that it works just like Fallout and Fallout 2, except for giving the player direct control over more than one party member. I played the second just long enough to verify that it plays exactly like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Dark Alliance 2 but with a Fallout 'skin'. And I deem that okay; I like the Dark Alliance games.

Fallout 3 for Xbox 360: I bought this in its release week, and played nothing else for a month. I have played through the main quest once, and since then I have played through all the side quests. Terrific game.