Review – Rondo of Swords

What we have already played shapes our opinions of new games. To an SRPG fan, a game like Luminous Arc is old hat. Yet people new to the genre may be taken in by the musical score, voice acting, interesting story and quality breast-focused character art. Without knowing what has come before, the game seems competent enough and can provide some good strategic fun.

The experienced SRPG fan likely sees Luminous Arc in a very different light. Its serviceable gameplay is often boring and it does very little to distinguish itself from older SRPGs beyond the innovative addition of painful load times between character turns. If you have played an SRPG or two in the past few years you will miss little by ignoring Luminous Arc. Of course if you are partial to the genre you may have already played the game and then realized the wallpaper images are the best thing to come from the design team. →  Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Post

Big Tuesday Blog Post

Initially this post was going to be about one topic, but several other things have come up that warrant discussion. Let us begin!

– Yahoo! Music is closing its doors. You probably never used Yahoo music, but it was big enough to warrant some sponsorships with Pepsi in the past, and worked as both an iTunes style store and a Rhapsody style subscription service. Strangely enough, the remains of the service will be merged with Rhapsody.

Meanwhile the DRM keys used to play music purchased from Yahoo will be going away, forcing Yahoo to give refunds – though the details are flaky as hell for subscribers.

The lesson here? These same dangers are a threat to gaming. Digital downloads are getting more and more popular, and for good reason. They are convenient, more reliable (no moving parts), and can potentially be cheaper. →  This better not be as bad as everything else here.

Review – Resistance: Fall of Man

In Resistance: Fall of Man, scrappy human soldiers in the UK go up against a technologically superior (and seemingly alien) foe in an alternate, World War 2 era universe. To those uninitiated in gaming culture, this may sound like War of the Worlds updated by half a century.

If only it were that whimsical. As a PS3 launch game, you can’t fault developer Insomniac for making Resistance a comfortable and conservative experience, but at this point it is mostly good for building up interest in Resistance 2.

Almost everything in Resistance will be familiar to action game aficionados. While technically set in the early 1950’s, the outdoor environments are reminiscent of any World War 2 shooter. The enemy Chimera bear some resemblance to Gears of War’s Locusts, while their technology and architecture looks to have been contracted out to the Combine from Half Life 2. →  Shadow of Read

E3 games you may have missed

We’ve all been beaten over the head with Gears of War 2, Resident Evil 5, Resistance 2, and the like for days now, but here are a few gems waiting just below the surface that really got my attention this past E3.

Dead Space
At first, Dead Space may look like a paint by numbers imitation of games like System Shock 2, but after taking a closer look, I’m really enjoying the direction this game is taking. Dead Space adopts a HUDless over the shoulder camera, and outfits its protagonist, the lone survivor on a derelict spacecraft now inhabited by malevolent creatures, with weapons improvised from the ship’s mining equipment.

The trailer brings to mind films like Event Horizon, which, while not being a particularly good example of film (OK, it sucked), certainly had its share of intense and disturbing imagery. →  All the lonely gamers, where do they all belong?

News We Care About Wrapup – 7.25.08

David Cage insults MMOs
Cage, the creator of Indigo Prophecy (or if you prefer, Fahrenheit) questions the emotional significance of grinding. His points look very similar to what some of us were saying during the long comment war after this videolamer article. He goes further than we did, though, and into territory I asked one writer to avoid despite his wanting to write on it:

“I think that’s fine for people when they need to build self esteem.”

Excellent fighting words. I agree with most of Cage’s positions but remain skeptical about his talent. Indigo Prophecy had about the best first few hours of any game I’ve played but is betrayed by Cage’s (or someone at Quantic Dreams) inability to write a good story. Once the plot starts falling apart it becomes clear that the actual gameplay of IP was mundane and boring because the simple controller inputs it demands are all at the service of the story. →  Let’s get read-y.

Review – Turok

The first Turok: Dinosaur Hunter came out eleven years ago and grew into a franchise of four games. While the original was well received the sequels received increasingly more critical reviews and the series eventually died. Disney bought the rights, created Vancouver-based Propaganda Games to develop a new title, and basically wound up repeating the lackluster performance of the last go around.

Overall Turok is mired in sub-par design in almost every aspect of the game. It uses the ubiquitous Unreal Technology to run the game and the developers weren’t able to make it shine as nicely as other third party developers. The environments are dull, rather fake looking, and use a slim palette of colours. The character models and dinosaurs look pretty good but they are nothing new and therefore fail to impress. →  Read Dead Redemption

Dual Shocked

Way back when the Playstation was Sony’s way of saying “fuck you” to Nintendo, there was the original Playstation controller. The method behind it was simple; take what Nintendo made and make it bigger. The controller had the same layout as a Super Nintendo pad, with some added handles and two extra shoulder buttons. Not at all original, but entirely functional, Sony would begin a trend of copying and improving that they follow to this day.

Nintendo of course wouldn’t be beaten, and with the N64 they added not only an analog joystick, but the option for force feedback. Sony replied just as they did before; their new controller would have two sticks and two rumble motors, without the need for batteries. Thus the Dual Shock was born.

Thanks to its popularity and the ubiquity of the Playstation, the Dual Shock became the closest thing to a controller standard the industry has ever seen. →  Oreshika: Tainted Postlines

Review – Lost in Blue 3

Hey guys, there’s a island survival game with the word “lost” in it. It has flashbacks, a secret lab, mysterious blah blahs, and blah blah blah. Sound familiar? Surprisingly, Lost in Blue 3 is the first of the series that grossly appropriates themes from the um… “popular” TV series Lost, and it makes the game a whole lot more fun!!! Just kidding.

Dolphin sing along!

I remember the first time I played The Sims. There I was, in an apartment full of moldy food, girlfriendless, and soaking in a pool of my own urine, gleefully being much more tidy and put-together in the virtual world than I ever could be in the real one. I didn’t get it. Why was picking up virtual trash actual fun when I hated doing it in the supposedly more interesting 3 dimensional world? →  Secread of Evermore

E3 08 – Sony Press Conference impressions

The major E3 press conferences played out the way I expected, except for Sony’s. Nintendo didn’t have much, and they didn’t really need much. Microsoft needed a fresh coat of paint and wanted a broader audience for the 360, and revealed attempts to accomplish these goals. Sony needed some big fucking guns, especially after the FF13 announcement. Instead, they gave us most of the same, and the few pleasant surprises simply weren’t enough in today’s gaming climate.

Killzone 2? Knew about it. Resistance 2? Looks great, but we knew about it. Resistance PSP and God of War 3? New, but not exactly shockers. Neither is a new Ratchet and Clank, even if it is a downloadable. Sony’s wares are all last year’s models, and apparently that will not fly. I think it is clear that as companies host their own mini events throughout the year, E3 is becoming less and less important for announcing ground-breaking news. →  Tony Hawk's Posting Ground

Riding the FAQ train

While they’re called “walkthroughs,” I’ve always been under the impression that very few gamers actually “walk through,” point by point, every single bit of advice and strategy that exists in these documents. Since I have a profound belief in the desire of humans to be lazy and cheat their way through life, I of course realize that there are some people who do just that; getting every magical item and NPC not through the joyous act of discovery, but the ponderous reading of, and then reacting to, an online how-to guide.

However, I never thought I’d see what I noticed today. A man, adorned in a marginally ridiculous dark suit & bright orange tee-shirt, reading (actually, more like studying) his printed-out f.a.q / walkthrough on the train. His brow furrowed, he apparently doesn’t waste enough time playing “Metal Gear Solid: 4” at home, and doesn’t derive enough pleasure from it while crammed into his under-lit and lonely apartment, but must try to induce further happiness by obsessing about it – grad-student-style – while on the train. →  Secread of Evermore

E3 08 – Nintendo Press Conference impressions

Nintendo’s E3 conference this year was a big let down for most people. Gamers are even calling it the worst E3 presentation ever and discussing how to best dispose of their Wiis. What could Nintendo have done to have drawn this kind of ire?

Having a mom lead off the presentation didn’t exactly start things off with a bang (insert clever mom sex joke here). She has some fancy position like administrative vice principle of managerial accounting executive advertising president of marketing but that she was a mom was important.

Yes, for the first time ever Nintendo announced their goal of branching out to new kinds of gamers at this year’s E3. And how. Olympic Snowboarding Gold Medalist Carrot Top presented the first fun-for-everyone Wii title. Unfortunately Snowboarderz is being developed by Ubisoft so it will face fierce competition from Baby Party 08. →  Snap! Crackle! Read!

Firaxis Rage

I love Civilization. I really do. I’ve been on a massive kick of Civ 4: BTS multiplayer recently, and I’m eager for Civilization Revolution, as are many of my friends. But I can’t excuse some of the ridiculous activities that Firaxis has been engaged in lately.

First, they release ANOTHER faulty patch for Civ 4. Fanboys would tell me to shut the fuck up and enjoy this wondrous bounty from Firaxis: after all, with Civ 3 Conquests they promised a patch that never came. But despite this, I can’t help but be angry that they produce another patch that is so bug-ridden it requires a user patch. After their criminal negligence with this title, the least they could do would be apply QA resources to ensure that their name is more synonymous with “quality programming” than “you suckers will buy anything we produce, ha ha ha.” →  Read, you fools!

Review – Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

Say what you will of Activision and Neversoft’s handling of Guitar Hero, but the idea of themed games revolving around a particular band is a good one. Celebrating the history and catalog (as well as the conflicts) of a world famous band is a great honor. It allows young players to learn some rock history, and for their moms and dads to relive their younger years.

Say what you will about Aerosmith, but the band fits the above description, and have been a huge influence on the rock world for better or worse. Finally, I get to say that while I like Neversoft more than a lot of gamers, there are a few kinks they need to address if they wish to continue making these themed games. GH Aerosmith is better than I expected, featuring more care and new content than I anticipated. →  Ikari Warriors 2: Postery Read

Dyack takes on the world

Recently, Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights appeared on the 1up Yours podcast to discuss the current state of forum accountability, specifically citing the popular forum NeoGAF as a place that requires change before “something bad happens.”

The crux of his argument (though I recommend anyone interested listen to the entire podcast, because there are several layers of smoke and mirrors before he really gets to his point), is that the anonymity of online discussion leads to a lack of accountability, and that, coupled with the attention that such boards get from journalists and marketing organizations, is bad for the industry in general and society as a whole. It should be noted that Mr. Dyack also seems to think that message boards are “not for profit organizations,” when in reality they are simply giant internet water coolers where word of mouth propagates. →  May God smite me if I stop reading here!

I fought the law and the law won – Tactics A2

I picked up Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift the other day and was initially very pleased to be playing it. I missed out on Tactics Advance on the GBA, but I am a longtime fan of the original. With about a hojillion classes, and the weapon-based learning system of FF9 (my personal favorite) I was immediately hooked.

But those details can wait for the full review. What I want to talk about is the law system. For those of you who haven’t yet played a portable Tactics, the law system is a mechanic that assigns a “law” to every battle. The laws aren’t your usual “no killing your neighbor” or “no raping your neighbor’s dog.” Instead they’re more Ivalice-relevant “no use of fire spells” or “no magic restoration items.” →  Densha de Read! Shinkansen

Review – Dark Sector

Ontario’s own Digital Extremes began development of the long delayed and often re-imagined Dark Sector in 2004, and it was released earlier this year by D3 Publisher for the X-Box 360 and the PS3. I remember the early period because the teaser trailer was one of the first to come out for this generation’s hardware. Dark Sector started out in space but by 2006 it was made over into a bleak secret agent story.

Four years is way, way too long a development cycle for a video game. A game takes that long only when there are serious problems afoot, and it’s been my experience that when the game is finally released those problems are still there. Sadly, Dark Sector is no exception.

I am still very keen on the premise of Dark Sector. →  You’re tearing me apart lamers!

It’s all over: MGS4, or the New Gen?

As I feared, the majority of reviews of Metal Gear Solid 4 are disappointing to say the least. Unfortunately, too many critics are interested in remarking about the length and quality of the cutscenes, which really means they like to make the obvious observations that they are “too long” and “too silly.” Rare is the review that compares them to the past entries in the series, which would show you that past cutscenes were less drawn out, and that dialogue in MGS1 sounded much more natural.

Kojima is like a novel writer who refuses to use an editor, and as a result we have scenes in MGS4 where characters can’t utter an important name without five lines of setup dialogue that could only possibly benefit new players (while making the characters look stupid and veteran players feel bored). →  Phoenix Write: Just Posts for All

Revolution… in reviewing?

Civilization Revolution is about to hit US game store shelves. What separates this game from the horde of other games coming out on consoles is the record amount of bugs in a console game. I kid, I kid. What it does bring to the table is an adaption of the incredibly deep PC-based Civilization series, and from initial reviews and demo play Civ Rev is sleek enough for consoles without sacrificing the Civilization flavor.

It’s rare that a developer makes a platform jump like this, and even more so when they alter an existing franchise successfully. Naturally, Civ Rev is far from perfect, but it seems (at least based on initial reviews) that this jump was successful and it’s a fun game with reasonable single player appeal and a strong multiplayer mode. →  Tony Hawk's Pro Reader 3

That was quick – Firmware 2.4

The much awaited 2.4 update to the PS3 is out, and with it comes nearly all of the remaining features that are already available on the Xbox 360. In game XMB, Trophies, and partial custom soundtracks are all here now, making the PS3 that much more of a complete package.

Many have considered this a major trump card for Sony, claiming that they now offer everything that Microsoft does at no cost to the consumer. This is true only to an extent: features like achievements, custom soundtracks and an in-game system menu are offered to all 360 users. Nothing in 2.4 is reserved to Xbox Live Gold members, and so this is really Sony catching up with some of Microsoft’s basic features.

I recently chalked this up to the fact that Microsoft has spent so much time and money on Live, but if you think about it, most of Live’s features have been a part of PSN for a while now. →  Double your reading, double your fun.