Return to Liberty City on PC and PS3

Finally announced for the PC and PS3 platforms, Rockstar will release their big DLC packages The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony on March 30th. The extra content has been available for nearly a year on XBox Live, but is now trickling down to less-favored platforms.

The packages had wide critical acclaim, but I think I may have moved on from GTAIV. The technical issues and DRM that hampered the title on the PC really got in the way of my enjoyment. It was certainly a good game that I had a lot of fun with when it worked, but it was hard to get past the graphical bugs and continual disk read errors. At $40, unless the games are bug-free, I wouldn’t consider subjecting myself to that frustration again.

My Thoughts on Mass Effect 2

I picked up Mass Effect 2 yesterday and spent a couple hours playing the intro and beginning sections of the game, and I was blown away by the entire experience.

From the beginning, I imported my character, which game me a bunch of bonuses like starting at level 2, and a lot of resources in the form of bonus credits and research materials. The intro also played according to my choices from the last game, and allowed me to reconfirm some of the actions I took. For example, when recalling memories, I could either confirm the previous game action or remember it differently, and I assume that would actually change the fact for the future of the game. The memory recall really brought a lot of the game back and helped cement your place in the world, and was a great reintroduction to your character and the universe. It’s great to feel that the game wraps itself around the decisions you’ve made and will continue to make.

The gameplay is similarly stellar. I was worried a more shooter-y feel would ruin it, but I really prefer it. Controls are sharper, weapons feel better and more impactful, and the visual cues to damage you give and take are great, from the energy bars displayed to blood spatters and reactions to the force of a grenade or shotgun blast. You really feel like you’re doing some damage. Now, I was a little disappointed in the “hide and heal” health mechanic. Similar to Modern Warfare health, if you hide and don’t damage, you heal up. When you take damage, you apparently grow really gross red veins around your monitor, like it’s alive. Very strange. Can I just have a health bar please? It would make medipacks relevant, which I still haven’t used yet.

Apart from the core gameplay, the dialog sessions and mini-games are engaging and engrossing. Being able to meet up again with characters from the past and having a drink with them, or the new renegade and paragon options where you can interrupt conversation with an action really pulls you into the world and puts you in Shephard’s shoes. The characters here feel like they bow and bend to your will, like you are some incredible force of gravity that warps the world around you, and that’s exactly how you should feel, being the star of a game. Of course the voice acting is top-notch, with Martin Sheen putting in an incredible performance and all the other characters bringing a depth and malice to their roles. I’ve also had a lot of fun with the hacking games, a kind of pattern matching exercise against the clock to either find specified code segments or connect circuits against the clock. A big improvement from the “frogger” recreations in the previous installment.

Only a short way into the game, I can tell this is going to be a fun ride. Although I know the ending will of course be a setup for the already announced final episode in the trilogy, it will be a great time getting there, even if the conclusion won’t really be that. But, of course, when that does come, you’ll have an even greater wealth of history and decisions to fold into the final chapter.

Mass Effect 2 Reviews Are In

Mass Effect 2 releases to general audiences today, and the reviews are in. Overwhelmingly they are glowing, from Gamespot’s 9.0 Editor’s Choice, to an even higher IGN review, and Kotaku has many good things to say as well.

I was never really doubting the fate of the game, as it was in good hands, and it’s not like it’s something they’ve never done before. But it seems like they’ve delivered above and beyond. We’ve had a large number of sequels in the past year, making it seem like new franchises are taking a back seat to teams cruising on previous successes. But if the polished and sprawling games like Assassin’s Creed II and Mass Effect II are what we get instead of brand-new worlds, I think I’m okay with that.

Hopefully my PC and mostly DRM-less game is waiting for me at the shop this morning.

Gratuitous Space Battles Pickup

After writing about the game back in September, I had to try the demo which I just discovered recently. It’s pretty fun actually. So fun I decided to get the whole game.

Most of the game consists of building your own starfleets from a number of ship hulls and tons of weapons and other components. You’re able to configure your strike fighters and bombers, long-range or AA frigates, support cruisers, or hulking behemoths bent on wiping out your enemies. Once configured, you can issue commands to your ships, and then send them into battle. Once in the fight, you actually have no direct control over the ships. It’s really an interesting concept. After the battle, you can view statistics and see what worked and what didn’t. Really a statistician’s (and nerd’s, probably) dream.

Probably the most interesting component of the game is the online level creator. You can build your fleet how you want it, and then issue a Challenge to other players. Through the Online Challenge interface, you can select, download, and play these Challenges and play against other player’s fleets. There have been some pretty interesting ones. A rating system for difficulty and enjoyment allows players to rank the levels that they play, and the cream rises to the top, as it were. Cool system for expanding on the missions within the game.

And it’s a good thing that there are player-created missions, because unless I’m missing something, there are only a handful of missions within the game. But at least there are the missions you can play with wave after wave of enemies.

That’s all beside the point, because the game is really about making huge ships and then making them explode in interesting ways. And this definitely cuts to the chase and gets the job done.

4^10 and Epic Space Goodness

Wow this is my 400th post. Not too shabby I guess.

Moving on to relevance, just found the Mass Effect 2 trailer. Wow, it gives me chills. Martin Sheen’s voice acting is fantastic. I can only hope the rest of the game carries this serious tone, great story, and expert voicing throughout. Enjoy below:

Mass Effect 2 Preordered

Lots of buzz around Mass Effect 2, and of course it’s coming out next week, very much looking forward to it. The first chapter was one of my favorites from 2008. I hope they don’t mess it up too badly by being Modern Warfare in Space. I think we’ll be fine, though. They chattered endlessly that DA:O was going to be so dark and scary awful that you’d cry yourself to sleep — or just not sleep. And see how that turned out? I only virtually killed one child through the course of the game. Hardly gritty noir stuff there. So I don’t think they’ll ruin Mass Effect too badly.

Over the weekend, I put my money down and reserved a disk-based copy. I purchased Dragon Age over the Internets, but I’ve learned my lesson about doing that with EA games. They destroy you on the DRM. DA:O was rendered unplayable after literally every patch, and eventually I had to do things that broke the EULA just to play it. So I’ll be getting a hard copy and doing DRM like it’s 1995 — with a disk check. It would be pretty cool if they got you to bust out the manual and look up the eighth word on the fifth line of page 22, but I doubt it will happen.

A Brief Intro to Spirit Tracks

I was gifted with The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for Christmas, but didn’t play at all until I finished Assassin’s Creed 2. Now that I’m into the new Link adventure, I am just loving it. It has a lot of charm, and I welcome the companion in the form of spirit Zelda. Her witty and insightful comments bring a lot of life to the game.

The game itself has a huge amount of charm, from the environments and towns to little touches like the train and Link’s hilarious facial expressions. It’s the perfect game to play in and laugh along with.

I’ve only gotten into the first couple dungeons, but the two boss fights so far have been a delight. I didn’t have to think too hard to figure out how to defeat them, but the second was a perfect challenge, requiring you to draw paths and evade your enemy, leaving me with a half sliver of heart at the end. The game so far has been perfectly paced. I’m looking forward to returning to it!

God of War Complete

Even though it’s been out several years, I just completed my first ever play-through of the original God of War as part of the newly-released God of War Collection on PS3. The graphical update stands up pretty well, even though some of the pre-rendered movies look a little dated.

My overall experience with the game was pretty mixed. There were high points, and then there were really low points. Some of the platforming sections of the game were intensely hard and unforgiving. In fact, most of the stretch of the game in Hades was ridiculously punishing, including the insta-death falls from the horizontal spinning blades of death. Not content only to test your will to throw a controller in one dimension, the vertical blades of death didn’t kill you outright, but only forced you to replay the same stupidly difficult section endlessly until you passed it. My relief was short-lived, as I was then greeted by yet another set of vertical spinning blades of death. Yay.

Prior to Hades, there’s a section were you have to kick a box across the room in a race to (once again) avoid instant death. You have to get your timing exact, otherwise you have to play it over again, watching the same annoying intro screen. Then there’s the Blades of Hades section (not actually in Hades, but in Pandora’s Temple) where you have to tight-walk on wooden beams and avoid more spinning blades. What is with these spinning blades? One mis-step, then, and you either fall off straight away or get chopped and pushed off, and you start over.

So, the platforming sections were pretty bad. However, the fights for the most part were intense and rewarding. Especially towards the end of the game, when your Blades of Chaos are maxed you, you can string together immense combos, working your enemies over in a mix of speed and brutality. It was most rewarding, strangely, in Hades, where the toughest sets of normal enemies meet you, and one brief section in Athens facing pumped-up, towering giants. You have so many weapons and moves at your disposal, you can work anyway you want, and this free-form battle system that aids you just enough to never worry too much about targeting or the camera is the greatest strength and greatest enjoyment in the whole game.

It is then incredible that these fight sections are the briefest of the entire experience. For a game that bills itself as a brutal brawler, you do a whole lot of jumping over ridiculous obstacles. I played the game through on normal, and I never once got offered “Easy Mode” (a result of dying too much) on combat sections. Maybe once or twice would I fail a fight, but then get the right of it, and move on. In the platforming sections, it would take me dozens of tries to get it right. Incredibly frustrating.

The final fight of the game then was just the icing on a terrible cake. I simply could not win. By that time, it was 2am, I was incredibly pissed after pulling my butt through Hades and beating two fights already, and the only way I won was by giving into Easy Mode for the first time in the whole gaming and winning with like three button presses. FYI, Easy Mode is Easy. Why couldn’t Normal Mode be Just A Bit Challenging?

Given my experience with the game, I doubt I’ll play God of War II, or even look much at the new installment coming out for PS3 in the next couple months. I was originally interested in it, but if they put any insta-death platforming sections in that force me to endlessly play the same section of gameplay again, it’s not worth my time.

Now They’re Just Messing With Me

I posted a couple days ago about the release date on Gran Turismo 5 slipping to a to be announced time. I posted several weeks ago about the impending Toyota FT-86, my new great love in sports cars. Well, it seems that Toyota and Sony Computer Entertainment have teamed up to taunt me with a video of my future car in my future video game. I’d be really upset if I weren’t so excited about the prospect of piloting this and so many more cars at some point in the next twelve months.