Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March Round up

Review Round Up for March:
  • Mass Effect 2: The core gameplay doesn't suck quite as much as in the first one, but that still isn't the reason why you come to play this game. The story is fun and full of good Trek style space drama. And you get to sex up Tali (in the worlds most disappointingly tame sex scene ever). Unskippable, long intro cut scenes, along with not particularly inspired gameplay (uninspired, but not at all painful like in the first Mass Effect - worth noting) keep me from replaying the game now or ever. Buyer's remorse? I borrowed this one from a friend, so no. Even so, I'd say it was fun enough to be worth $40.
  • Blade of Darkness: I have to come back to this classic 3d hack and slash platformer every couple of years. This game is everything Price of Persia 3 was supposed to be, and on top of it it has a very innovative and brutal combat system that rewards strategic dodging and precise timing. On top of on top of that it has graphics that were drop dead gorgeous at the time the game was released and a realtime shadow system that holds up pretty well even today. This game, from Euro developer Rebel Act Studios (now defunct), should be in every PC gamer's library (but isn't in many).
  • Die by the Sword: I picked this one up on a whim from Good Old Games last week. You can't help but love the wacky, wonky, and novel as hell control scheme that basically lets your mouse directly function as your sword arm in-game. Who would of thought that a studio that has for the last several years (and CoD sequels) been so creatively dead, Treyarch, could have come up with such a novel and fun approach to hacking and slashing. The downside to wacky, wonky combat is that it makes the single player extremely tough and random. Now, I'm sure there are some Die by the Sword masters out there who can fight two Ogres at a time and dissect them like insects with their precise mouse movements... But that isn't me, or likely most other players who can't do anything more strategic than flailing their sword arm around like a spastic tard and hope to get a random decap on our Ogre boss foes. Also, the game at times has some really awful level design that is so bad that it makes you wonder if it is some kind of sick joke. But in the end, getting your leg cut off and then hopping-and-flailing your way to a victory decap is still one of the most satisfying hack and slash experiences that can be found. Buyer's remorse? For 6 bucks? None at all.
  • Lead and Gold (beta): This offering from newly formed small timey Euro developer FatShark which, if word on the street is correct, is comprised of a lot of ex-Grin employees, has just hit Steam this past weekend. The game will premier at $15, but you can preorder now for 10% off and an entrance into the beta. Basically, this is a 5 on 5 team class-based shooter set in the wild west. Now, for the scary part: It is an Xbox Live Arcade port. Now for the even scarier part: It is really damn good. Yes, I said it. This is an Xbox Live Arcade port that doesn't allow (at the moment) for dedicated servers, doesn't let you change any graphical options, and doesn't even have chat implemented yet because it is such a bare bones port... And yet the game is just so damn good at what it does that I can't help but love it. It is the next best team shooting game to Team Fortress 2, and it is only $15. It gets the shooting almost completely right, with just a few small balance issues that are acceptable for a beta. It nails the presentation with great graphics combined with a unique look. It gets the team part of team shooter right by adding the class "synergy" feature (basically, it is an aura unique to each class that buffs nearby teammates, thus promoting sticking together in groups). Plus, how many other wild west themed games are there? Buyer's remorse? Not on your life.

Tiny Previews:

  • Just Cause 2 demo: B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-boring. There was a time when "sandbox" meant something special, but now it seems that sandbox games are almost a majority, and Just Cause 2 does nothing to stand out from the crop. Basically, this is Mercenaries with a grappling hook. Now, I admit that I did get a big smile on my face the first time I grappled a civilian to a moving car and watched as she got dragged down the street and swung into the side of a house. But everything about the core gameplay - the shooting, the missions, the weapons, the bad guys - everything is just so bland that I can't imagine anyone enjoying this thing. The demo is limited by clock, and I found myself bored and completely done with the game long before the short timer ran out.
  • Splinter Cell Conviction demo: This blew me away. First off, just so everyone knows, I hate stealth games. I just hate stealth. I even hate games that aren't stealth games but make me do it for just one level for a diversion from the main gameplay. That is how much I hate stealth. I hate having to crawl instead of run, and having to plan out my movements precisely, and having to reload just because I was spotted and that screws everything up. And the Splinter Cell series was like the king of hardcore stealth. Sure, there is Metal Gear, but that has always been Stealth Lite in comparison. If crap goes down in a Splinter Cell game, you are almost always toast. If ! goes down in a Metal Gear game, you just hide in your box and wait for the bad guys to forget about you. So yeah, I've never liked Splinter Cell. But Conviction seems to have been made for me. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of stealth. You are still totally rewarded for careful planning, and thoughtful movements. But the rewards are for gamers like me. See, for every carefully planned Splinter Cell Conviction stealth execution, you are rewarded with a Sam Fisher Super Move(R). The Same Fisher Super Move allows you to pick any three targets in a room and just destroy them with your pistol, in a method so cinematic and satisfying that I will never get tired of seeing it. Finally I have a real incentive to be a stealthy shadow of death: If I am, I am allowed to briefly be an action movie hero and get a "get out of any sticky situation free" card. Truly, this is a stealth game made for me. I, for one, can't wait.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rebel Rousers

Have we all played the new AvP yet? Good, so we all know of its mediocrity. Everybody who has played the thing has been able to figure this out instantly. It must go without saying that the UK developer Rebellion, who presumably have played the thing more than anyone, must also be more aware than anyone of just how mediocre their game is.

That is why a Gamespy article about Rebellion and AvP really caught my eye. Actually, it caught my eye in a few ways. First of all, in the UK AvP is now the fastest selling game of 2010, despite having a Metacritic rating of 65 (for a little bit of context, Xbox Live Arcade game Polar Panic has earned a Metacritic rating of 69). That is worth a double take right there.

But if that is worth a double take, what came next is worth a spit take. When confronted with the clear evidence of the not-so-great critical reception of his game, Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley counters with: "The reviews have been mostly good."

...Buh? On the outset this seems to fly completely in the face of the facts. Maybe he clarifies his statement, so we read on: "We've had three totally shit reviews by some Americans, which is a bit odd. Some of them were inexcusably bad. If you discount those poor reviews AvP is averaging high for us."

Ah, I see. So basically, if you ignore all of the shitty reviews for your shitty game, the game is actually a critical success. By that logic you can say that if you ignore the 5 bad reviews for Polar Panic, then Polar Panic is actually a contender for game of the year.

Now, I have to admit that my initial reaction was to get all pissy at the way he seems to try and play the victim of the bigoted anti-Brit, American game journalists. And to be fair, he really does seem to be trying to do just that. But if you look a little closer, you can see what is really happening. I mean, even IF you discount those three reviews, the average only goes from 65 to 68 (and yes, I really figured this out by finding the average of all the reviews with the exception of the three worst). You can hardly call a 68 average a "critical success", and Rebellion knows it. So why would they say otherwise?

This is when I remembered a little something that happened in the gaming community just a couple of years ago. FASA had just released its Xbox 360 game Shadowrun to tepid reviews (66 on the Metacritic). That is when the head of FASA jumped on a gaming podcast show and started ranting about unfair reviews. In particular, he was bothered by the way so many reviewers touched on the $60 dollar price tag. For my own part, I loved Shadowrun as a Counter-Strike clone with a twist on the 360. Yet there truly was not enough content in the box to justify a purchase. How can you not factor that into a review, which primarily exists to help consumers figure out if they want to buy the game or not?

Anyways, what happened next is that the game undersold, and then FASA was liquidated by Microsoft. The whole "these reviews are crap" thing was just FASA trying to justify its existence to Microsoft. FASA was blowing smoke and trying to stay alive as long as possible.

Fast forward to the present day, and we see developer Rebellion trying to tell everyone that everything is a-okay despite bad sales in the US and bad reviews everywhere. Blaming bad American game journalism is just Rebellion's way of spinning the situation so that SEGA won't liquidate them in the same manner that Microsoft killed FASA.

Is it deceptive? Yes. And annoying. But I guess I can't blame them much. They are just trying to hold on to their baby. With that in mind, I'll even root for them a bit. Rebellion doesn't have a terrible pedigree (they made the first AvP, after all), and maybe they have a good game left in them if they are given the chance to make it.

As for the initial double take, the game outselling all others in the UK. This stat is just as bewildering as ever. If I had to guess, I would say that this doesn't so much indicate that the game is flying off of the shelves in the UK as much as it indicates that nothing is flying off of the shelves in the UK. The total game sales numbers must be crap, and AvP has just managed to become king of that extremely small hill. But since I can't find any total sales numbers anywhere (and I barely bothered to look), I can't really back this up.

But I'm probably right. As always.