My Halloween Treat

Three amazing demos just went up on Playstation Network today, it’s making me think I’ve got Christmas in October. They are for Mirror’s Edge, Valkyria Chronicles, and Tom Clancy’s Endwar.

Mirror’s Edge smacks of a game that I was just into — Assassin’s Creed. Mirror’s Edge seems like a first-person, modern action game with incredible graphical design and an intense beat-em-up style. It doesn’t seem exactly like a shooter, but instead a Matrix-style mixed martial arts fighter combined with open-world gameplay. Plus the setting is interesting. Check out the trailer with genuine gameplay.

Valkyria Chronicles is another mash-up of gameplay elements that interest me. It seems like a sort of fusion between RPG and tactical turn-based combat. The visual style looks fantastic, unlike anything in gaming I’ve seen, more like a graphic novel. It actually really reminds me of the Advance Wars series, specifically the first couple for the GBA. This is a PS3 exclusive, and one I’m going to have to think long and hard about. The trailer doesn’t show any gameplay but does showcase the visual design.

Finally, Tom Clancy’s EndWar is a surefire hit for a couple reasons. First, it should be a great tactical strategy game in a near-future setting. The Clancy games are always known for their attention to military detail, and this should be no different. The gameplay as I understand it follows a mostly rock-paper-scissors style checks and balances, with the units that making up the game, each a perfect foil of the other with choppers beating tanks beating armored infantry beating choppers, and so on. The second reason this will be a game to watch is the new way to play — that is, completely through voice commands. This game is less about micro-management as in some RTS games, and more akin to a management-style simulator where squads of units are more or less autonomous, but you provide directions, stances, and actions.

Downloads are going as I publish this. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once the games install and I partake of the Halloween treats!

What’s The Story in Your Game

I enjoy video games a great deal, primarily because I think beyond entertainment, the good ones are trying to say something, trying to tell a story or make a statement. I recently started playing Assassin’s Creed, a game that released last fall among the incredible lineup from last year’s holiday season. I’ve really enjoyed the game, because of its detailed world, enjoyable action combat, and the story and message it’s trying to tell.

In the game, two competing factions have the same end goals in mind. That is, a world at peace with itself, the end of war and suffering. However, both factions go about it in different ways, and both of their methods involve war and suffering, interestingly enough. The story examines the ways that we, as people, excuse means to a noble end, and whether one man’s life taken in violence is worth the lives of countless others who may live on. This has a great relevance today in an era where we fight wars of choice and imprison supposed criminals without charges or trial in the name of making our country a safer place.

In the context of this moral examination, I can deal with the make-believe violence, process it, and not let it bother me. It isn’t violence for violence’s sake. It has as light of a touch as can be possible, and is thoughtful, and it’s about doing bad things in the name of good. Or, at least, what you believe to be good.

Fallout 3 on the other hand is a game that has recently released that tells a different story. The game is set over 250 years in the future in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of misery and pain and death. I’m not sure the story they’re trying to tell, and, to be fair, I haven’t played the game to see what they’re trying to say, if anything. But I’m not sure that I could really take the dystopic environment due to what I perceive as a lack of a real story or message or some greater meaning other than just something ugly to defeat in a virtual world.

I’m not trying to go all Jack Thompson on video game violence, but instead address why I, personally, can watch these things happen on-screen and either take them in stride as part of a greater message or be utterly disturbed by them. And maybe I look forward to the day when people take video games in the way that television and movies are — both entertainment as well as a vehicle for social commentary.

Red Alert 3: The Allies

Playing around a little bit more with the game, and I had a chance to run through a skirmish with the Allies this time. The Allies, made up of the traditional western European powers along with the United States, center around strong naval and air strategies.

Base construction with the Allies are pretty standard; you queue up a building, and place it once it is complete. I thought the base defense turrets were interesting. They start life as missle turrets, but depending on what infantry you place inside, they change. Add a standard rifle infantryman and it turns into a triple-gun anti-infantry emplacement. Pretty cool.

Obviously the strong navy is a big draw for me. The biggest, baddest direct-attack warship is the Assault Destroyer. This is a strong anti-armor, anti-ship unit. It has an ability that makes it draw fire from other units, making it the perfect escort. The end of the line naval unit is the Aircraft Carrier. The destruction that this thing wreaks from afar is a sight to behold. Each ship comes equipped with a quintet of strike aircraft that it launches at your command. The ship also has a special ability called the Blackout missle, allowing it to do a targeted EMP blast and disable electrical systems in the radius.

Add in the anti-air, amphibious transport, and scout unit (the Dolphin!) and the Allied navy force is a powerful, versatile team. Should be fun to sneak around the end and blast the enemy from the sea!

Red Alert 3: Empire of the Rising Sun

I’ve finally gotten the game into my RTS-loving hands!

Funny story (that wasn’t very funny at all when I was in the midst of it) before I begin describing my initial experiences. When I came home with the game, cracked it open, and began the install process, I discovered a serious error. The registration code printed in the manual was missing a character, the very last character of the code. Of course, after I got a little mad, I did what the very erudite individual Mart suggested to me: try every alphanumeric character.

I did so. It was a 3!!!

Anyway, be on the lookout for goofy serial codes.

On to the game proper. Love the intro movie, I have high hopes that the campaign is going to be a heck of a good time. But I wanted to get right into the game, and test out the new faction: The Empire of the Rising Sun. Obviously inspired by Japanese history, the faction has units such as convertible mecha vehicles, sneaky scouts, and massive warships.

The base construction with the Empire is a little bit different in this game. Each building starts live as a vehicle, which you can move to a spot on the map, any spot in fact, and drop it in place, where nano-machines fill out the building from the vehicle’s framework. This allows for great flexibility in base layouts and expansion.

The units aren’t too out of the ordinary, but they do have interesting tweaks. All units have two combat modes or some kind of special ability. A couple of the cool units are the Mecha Tengu and the Sea Wing. The Mecha Tengu is great versus troops and light vehicles when in ground mode, but can transform into an anti-air unit in its secondary mode. Similarly, the Sea Wing is an aerial bomber in its primary mode, but can transform into a light attack submarine. These units allow for a greater flexibility in the field by transitioning fewer units to more specialty roles. Plus it’s just awesome.

The Empire seem to be a perfect fit for players who crave flexibility and customizability, and who are able to micromanage transforming units into the perfect foil for their enemies’ tactics. Definately a faction I inted to deeply examine! More to come as I check out the Allied and Soviet sides in the global Red Alert 3 war.

A Visit to Charming LittleBigPlanet

Got a call on Friday that Gamestop would have LittleBigPlanet available sometime Saturday afternoon. After a Saturday morning walk-through of a potential new house (the first so far, very exciting), I stopped by Gamestop right as it opened. As we were walking up to the front door, a UPS truck pulled up, and I had a sneaking suspicion that this delivery held LittleBigPlanet disks. I was not disappointed. We were the only ones in the shop and got the first game out of the box.

Again, with the game, I was not disappointed. The game is just pure joy. Unless I’m failing miserably at simple jumping puzzles, and that’s my fault, isn’t it? The entire game looks like a patchwork quilt, something you can reach out and cuddle up with. It’s a competent platformer with novel level design and exciting action elements. The single-player story is excellent and narrated by the hilarious Stephen Fry who provides excellent instruction to the game’s mechanical methods of world-building and avatar-dressing.

Speaking of world-building, the tools in this game could be the best — and most fun! — of any creator tool I’ve used. The Company of Heroes builder is a great program, having spent a great deal of time in it. And the Spore creators are simple and you can create adorable creations. But they can hardly compare to the toolset of LittleBigPlanet. Although you can go in so many different directions, the excellent tutorials provide jumping-off points and allow you to create mundane and magnificent levels. I have great hope that the community is going to make memorable levels that easily match what the game developers themselves have created.

In short, if you have a PS3, you must get this game.

World of Goo

I picked up World of Goo last night. Picked up is a misnomer here though really, because you can’t buy it at retail. It’s only available through digital content distributions, in this case through the Wii Shop.

This purchase marks three Wii Shop purchases for me in two months. These are the only games I’ve purchased for the Wii recently — I haven’t got a boxed Wii game since Mario Kart. Not that I don’t love my Wii, but I think it speaks to a promise of downloadable games. There’s a surprising amount of quality out there, and this past year’s releases of XBLA, Wii Shop, Playstation Store and PC gaming heralds a promising future for digital content distribution. Braid, the excellent platformer-meets-existential-philosophy title, released a few months back on XBox Live Arcade to rave reviews. World of Goo just out this week, only on Wii Shop. Similarly, we’ve seen the Penny Arcade and Homestar Runner games, although little more than fan service admittedly, available only via digital download. And of course the excellent but difficult Mega Man 9, available across a number of platform’s digital content distribution schemes, but only available on digital content distribution schemes. Add Steam into the mix, and it gives gamers greater choice. That can only be good.

Having said that, what about World of Goo? It’s fantastic. It looks great, sounds great, and plays great. The levels range from quick and simple to quick and difficult. But that’s good. The challenges are physics-based and behave like they should. The visual design is adorable, a little bit Nightmare Before Christmas, a little bit I Love Katamari. Plus, the co-op play is a wonderful idea, especially on the Wii. At any time you can drop in and out and play a level, and it goes up to four players. I was tackling puzzles with my wife’s assistance, and it was a blast. Even when your creations topple over and collapse back into goo, you get a good laugh out of it. It just means you can try it again! It has all the satisfaction of playing with Lego or Magnetics toys without all the mess of actually picking them up after they topple over. It makes for a great party game. It’s a lot of fun to watch, too, as people’s carefully crafted structures reach for the sky or plummet back to earth.

At 1500 Wii Points (or Nintendo Points as they may be calling them now that the new DS will be releasing with downloadable content), it may be a little pricey for a downloadable game. It’s really worth the money. I imagine you’ll get ten or more hours just playing through the basic levels without repeats, and that doesn’t include getting your friends involved to play a few levels cooperatively. You do have friends, right? Then get this game, you’ll all have a ball. Of goo.

Spore Superweapon Gravitation Wave

I haven’t fooled too much with the superweapons in Spore. Usually they cause your friends to hate you and enemies to hate you even more. But it’s fun to play with them and not save your game! View the quick video below for a demonstration of the Gravitation Wave, a disruptive force that destroys all cities on a planet, leaving it ripe for colonization.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Entrenchment

I’d read about this proposed expansion some days ago on the offical site, but more details have emerged. Not a traditional expansion, the Entrenchement “micro-expansion” as they’re labelling it will contain new defensive turrets and a super-unit called a star base. This massive unit should be incredibly powerful but likely tied to one system. Make sure it’s one worth protecting!

X-Play also covers some of the information in this video from last week:

StarCraft II… Trilogy?

In what could possibly be the largest waste of design and marketing ever, Blizzard is planning to release StarCraft II as a trilogy. I’m not sure if Blizzard pays attention to how people play their games. They go, “Eh, this thing has a single-player mode?” and then jump on BattleNet or a LAN game for multiplayer.

Blizzard, just stop. I don’t know why you haven’t learned your lesson from the blight that is World of Warcraft, but people pretty much just play your games for the multiplayer. All your pathetic attempts to build lore, characters, and unique worlds fall apart when the 14-year-olds get ahold of your game and crap all over it by playing online, pwning newbs or something. How many times do you have to read server logs that start “ROFLOMGWTFBBQ dude i jst got teh uber leet boot drop lololol11!!11onehundredeleven.”

Hey, look, they don’t care about your epic storylines. Please just release whatever of the Lich King with a credit card slot in it so the kids can get their mom to swipe and buy whatever they want. Then, take that money and jam the StarCraft II games in the same box, so the people who do care can enjoy them together.

Prince of Persia Trailer — Shiver Inducing

Enjoy the trailer. Fresh from the 2008 Tokyo Game Show, it’s all I need to transport me to another time and place. The incredible color, the unique art design, the animated combat and cooperation between Prince and Mysterious Lady… This is why I’ve loved the Prince of Persia games, and why this may be the best yet. Please Ubisoft, deliver an unmatched experience. Don’t let me down.