Happy trails...

by on

...to you, until we meet again (and I'm sure we will). Just a quick note to say this Friday will be my last day at GameSpot.

I hate long goodbyes, so this will be quick. Believe it or not, GameSpot has been paying my bills for well over eight years now, first as a freelancer, then an intern, then a freelancer again, then finally an editor, at which point I packed my bags and headed from North Carolina out to the left coast to work in the office fulltime. I'm learning that leaving a job after so many years feels more like a breakup than a simple professional transition, but it's time for a break all the same.

The hardest part will be leaving all my coworkers behind, whom I admire and will miss each in their own way. You wouldn't believe the number of talented and inspiring people I've been lucky enough to cross paths with--and in some cases, truly befriend--in my years here. Pretty humbling, really. Keep on keepin' on, y'all.

As has become the fashion, I've set up a blog if you want to keep up with my exploits:

http://verbocracy.blogspot.com/

I've had a blast busting out content for you guys and gals all these years. Catch you on the flipside.

Holiday Gaming 2007

by on

Because I haven't posted anything on here in far too long, I thought I'd talk about the gaming I did during the two-week span I was chilling (figuratively) in North Carolina over the break. There may be some spoilers, you've been warned, etc.

Mass Effect: I was ready for this game to be my favorite of the year, and although it's pretty flawed in a few aspects, it was probably the most enjoyable gaming experience I had in 2007. For every frame rate hitch or mind-numbing uncharted world I ran into, there were half a dozen brilliant dialogue sequences, dynamic combat scenarios, and satisfying plot revelations. I thought the last two hours were the best of the game, bringing the loose plot threads together quickly and sensibly amidst some really impressive action set pieces.

The game's narrative scope is so great, I sat one night for a couple of hours just reading through all of the codex entries to absorb the universe the writers fleshed out with such a stunning combination of breadth and specificity (check out the lengthy descriptions of the Turians' duty-bound militarized society). I'd love to see the Mass Effect property extended to other media, and it seems especially ripe for serialization in the Battlestar or Babylon 5 vein.

I hope EA can help Bioware shore up the technical areas in which ME is lacking, because while the game's lows are a little irksome, the highs are phenomenal.

Call of Duty 4: The multiplayer, anyway (I haven't finished the single-player because playing through it on 'hardened' is becoming a bit of a grind. Stupid infinite respawns!). I feel like all I need to say here is that I obsessively played COD4 online without the promise of any online-related Xbox Live achievements to strive for whatsoever. They dole out the imaginative perks and tasty new weapons at just the perfect rate to keep you hooked, and even without that carrot-on-a-stick thing going on, the core shooting model feels so perfect I stopped playing Halo 3 for it (and Halo 3 ain't no slouch).

If you want to level up quickly, play headquarters. Thanks for the power-leveling, Rich.

Switchball: The first few levels of this were surprisingly fun and addictive; it felt like a combination of Marble Madness and Mousetrap (or any Rube Goldberg-like contraption). I feel like this is the sort of game I'd want to make if I ever tried to make a game. I also feel like it's a game my mom could enjoy, although I never got her to sit down and try it. (My parents actually have a 360, believe it or not.)

Resident Evil 4 Wii: Holy crap does this game ever hold up! Even three years after its original release, RE4 on the Wii offered the most concentrated fun-per-minute rate of any game I played over the break. My cousin and I plowed through the storyline in two marathon sittings, just so we could open up the Mercenaries and other bonus modes to start trying for the elite weapons. You really can't say enough about how great RE4 is... it's probably in my top five (maybe three) games of all time. On one hand, I don't know how RE5 can live up to this. But on the other, if it does, wow.

Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: I was a vociferous complainer about Twilight Princess' similarity to Ocarina, and especially its staunch adherence to the old Zelda formula. You know, explore dungeon-find new item-fight boss-repeat. How many times can you really play the same fire temple and collect the same boomerang? So I feel a little hypocritcal having so much fun with Phantom Hourglass, which has been utterly delightful so far. I like that it doesn't take itself too seriously, with characters like Linebeck and the traveler adding some needed mirth. The controls are also totally refreshing and have worked beautifully so far. The map-annotation features is surprisingly useful. And probably more than anything else, I love its personality. The cel shading looks surprisingly good on the DS, and there are some great little touches like the characteristic poof of smoke when enemies die, or the way Link tamps down the earth with his foot when he fills in a hole with his shovel. Basically, I'm just glad the Wind Waker's cartoony visual aesthetic didn't die out. I for one thought Twilight Princess' return to realistic form was pretty well unnecessary.

I bought multiple copies of this game as Christmas gifts, and my girlfriend is now almost as far in it as I am.

--

Anyway, that's all the gaming I had time for during a surprisingly busy holiday break. What games did you play, and what did you think of them?

Lofty Ambitions

by on

When the hell did Gameloft become a console game developer, and a good one? Between the way-more-than-competent Prince of Persia remake on Xbox Live Arcade, and now this amazing-looking Brothers in Arms game on the DS, those guys have really come out fighting.

[video=IXw2n2ev5b4EuDfX]

Bear in mind Gameloft was previously known for making cell phone games.

The Comeback Kid

by on

KutaragiI don't enjoy watching the console makers hit hard times, or take any pleasure when they err. I was saddened by the GameCube's relatively poor third-party support and lack of games (something I hope Nintendo can rectify this generation). I feel bad for Microsoft and its continued failure to gain a significant foothold in the Japanese market (because I think the Xbox 360 is a great system). And as much as the media (including this site) has flung criticism at Sony over its frequent missteps in designing, producing, launching, and promoting the PlayStation 3, I'd rather see Sony as an object of admiration than one of derision.

Granted, some notable figures at the company have made themselves easy targets at times over the last year, but there's no joy for me in pointing out their mistakes. I'd much prefer they get out of this rut of sporadic, middling releases and questionable public relations and turn the PS3 into the heavyweight it ought to be. Healthy, fruitful competition is good for the whole industry, right?

What I do enjoy is seeing a company like Sony pull itself out of the kind of slump it's been in for quite a while now. And that's exactly what it seems to be doing after its recent banner week at the Game Developers Conference. Admittedly, Home has a lot left to prove--but there's a lot of potential there, and they had to do something in the online space. The newly announced PlayStation Edge initiative doesn't directly affect end users, but it should trickle down to them in the form of more and better third-party games. And in the most uplifting hearts-and-minds move I've seen any company make in a while, the 1.6 firmware update will let PS3 owners help cure some nasty diseases with a Cell-specific version of the Folding@Home client. That's pretty awesome.

But from the hardcore gamer's perspective (read: yours and mine), what Sony really needed was something truly new, something you just can't get from Microsoft or Nintendo (who are themselves peddling a lot of unique features these days). For that, there's LittleBigPlanet, easily the most visually and conceptually impressive thing I've seen on the PS3 since the Sony hype machine started cranking back at E3 2005. Yeah, okay, I can't get over the whimsical look, the amazing lighting and motion blur effects, and the extensive physics modeling. I think it's one of the prettiest games of the HD era so far--go watch the new HD trailer and try to disagree. So there's a big plus on the aesthetic front already.

LittleBigPlanet

But the most exciting thing about LittleBigPlanet (if you'll allow me to throw around some tired and annoying jargon) is that, marketing spin or not, they got all Web 2.0 with it--and in a potentially amazing way. The so-obvious-it's-no-longer-a secret of the modern Internet business model is that you can just let your users create all the content for you. The LBP sample level shown at GDC was neat and all, but it didn't get really promising for me until the gameplay demo ended and the level editor demo began. (Go dial up the Sony keynote video and seek toward the end to see what I'm talking about.) With the in-game physics and what looks like a very flexible object-modelling system, there could be very little constraint on the creativity, the crazy Rube Goldberg-esque levels that will emerge as users (and maybe even some pro game designers) explore the possibilities here. You know that saying about a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters? I bet way more than a thousand people are going to mess with this game, and through an absolute glut of content and what looks like an intelligent user-rating system, the cream of the unique levels is going to rise to the top really fast. I can't wait to see what people come up with.

Sony's been making decent strides in the last couple of weeks to shore up its public image and turn the PS3 into a console worth owning. Good for them, I say, and keep it up. Now if they can just get the damn price down, I'm sure we can all be friends.

Happy Thanksgiving

by on
Hope everyone at home and abroad has a nice Thanksgiving today. Make sure you tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them while you've got the chance. Not to sound too much like your mom, but if we can afford to care this much about video games, we've really got a lot to be thankful for. In fact, what are you doing on the computer right now? Git! Scram! Skedaddle!

Edit: Best wishes to the international community too, even if you do have to go to work today. :(

Now if you'll excuse me, my teeth have an appointment with some noble beast's succulent haunch. I like saying haunch.

Shooter Update: Prey Finished, FEAR Approaching...

by on

I powered through the second half of Prey (the half I hadn't played prior to release) in a day or two about a week ago, and I found it to be...good, if not wildly original. Nothing wrong with it at all, but it didn't quite have that extra something special that propels the finest games into classic status. The weapons were visually interesting but merely filled the standard shooter archetypes, and I wish they'd done more with some of the unique concepts they established at the beginning of the game, like the portals shrinking you down to tiny size.

I did have a lot of fun playing Prey, though, and I have to say the endgame was a bit unique and unexpected. Interesting setup for a sequel, if they get to that point. Good job, Human Head--but I really want to see a new Rune before another Prey. Seriously! Vikings rip.

So many people recommended that I play FEAR next before Quake 4 that I'm going to, well, play FEAR before Quake 4! I can see how FEAR would be a more unique experience, and it'd be good to split up the two Doom 3 engine games with something more original. So I may start FEAR tonight, or later this week at the latest. Really looking forward to getting my first-person jump kick on.

Shooter Summer Update: Butcher Bay Done, Prey Up Next

by on

Finally finished Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay last weekend after an unavoidable hiatus. It was easily one of the best games I've ever played. They transitioned from one kind of gameplay to another--melee to shooting, shooting to stealth, stealth back to shooting--so seemlessly, and with adventure-game elements (quests, dialogue trees) included to boot. And all those different types of gameplay were done so well, which is even more amazing since the first-person perspective does not traditionally lend itself to melee and stealth in the first place. It wasn't without flaws, but man am I ever glad I went back to play that game.

Prey has since jumped to the front of the queue since I feel the need to stay current with something this summer. So far I've not played past the point I got to in the prerelease version for preview, so I don't have much to say about it. I'll check in after I've seen stuff I haven't already seen before (i.e. when I finish it).

I think Quake 4 is next, unless someone makes a compelling case for FEAR (or maybe Far Cry).

Summer of Shooters

by on
After limping along with an underperforming Frankenstein's monster of a PC pretty much ever since I moved to California over three years ago, I made a considerable investment of blood, sweat, and cash back in January and constructed a gaming PC of fairly beastly proportions.

Then I played WoW on it for three months.

Now that I've finally kicked for the second time, I'm paying due attention to my first love: the first-person shooter. I already polished off Half-Life 2: Ep One and Sin Episodes, and over the next few months I plan to blast through every major shooter I've neglected the last few years. My current and hopefully soon-to-expand agenda is (list updated!):

-Chronicles of Riddick: Butcher Bay (starting tonight!)

-Quake 4

-FEAR

-FarCry

What shooters should I add to this list? Keep in mind I'm only looking for PC shooters, you Halo freaks, and I beat HL2 and Doom 3 at release, so those are ineligible. Anything else is fair game since, let's say, 2000. Post your favorites and I'll consider adding 'em to the list. This could turn into a bonafide summertime vision quest or something.

Edit: Prey is naturally going to join the list in the near future.

In the Next Installment...

by on
Because I said I would, I'll comment on HL2 Episode One, if anyone still cares.

It's cheap and short, but utterly dense with satisfying gameplay. I'd almost refer to it not as a first-person shooter but a first-person experience, simply because Valve has now officially put that perspective to better use engrossing the player than any other developer I've seen.

Little moments like Alyx hugging you or Dog hurling you across the chasm while you ride in the husk of an old car go a long long way toward making you feel like you're actually in your surroundings. They just kept bringing a smile to my face over and over with their great ideas.

You could have those neat little design elements in any shooter, though. What's really so striking about Episode One is that I played through it in maybe three sittings but was more satisfied at the end than I've been with all but the finest "full-length" games. They had a relatively short length of game to fill, so what they filled it with was of the finest quality through and through. Best of all, in six months we get (presumably) another dose of the same, which will satisfy my itch to see the story continued and provide another five or six hours of equally brilliant gameplay, all without making me wait forever and a day. Quality over quantity, woo.

Yeah, I'm way into this episodic content thing when companies like Valve exploit it to such effect. But hey Ritual, Emergence was pretty fun, too. Bring back Blade's one-liners (I better hear at least one "Can it, JC!" in the next one), give us at least three new weapons, and do some interesting stuff with that setting you're implying for the next one, and I'll be all over it.

Lite of My Life

by on
DS Lite secured. And what a lovely little piece of personal electronics this thing is!

After owning three Game Boy Advances (not bitter, honest) and being initially sort of uninterested in the DS, I vowed to wait for the inevitable, streamlined redesign, especially because the first DS was so ugly and clunky. So I've had to satisfy any desire I had to play DS games through the office supply, which means I've missed out on most of the amazing lineup the system has to offer.

But man, I'm sort of glad I waited. Now I get to go back and play all these modern classics like Advance Wars and New SMB on what's got to be the sleekest portable system ever (and that includes the PSP). I can't get over how lush the screens are, and how slick and compact the overall system design is. It's right up there with the iPod Nano. I even had to get Mario 64 DS for nostalgia's sake--the Lite is somehow making old games fun again, even ones I played through ten years ago. Sometimes it's hard not to love Nintendo and its unflinching devotion to the utmost quality.

By contrast, after carrying my PSP with me everywhere for close to a year, I've finally made the profound life decision to start leaving it at home. Getting in a quick game feels like such a chore on that thing, what with the protracted boot-up and extreme loading times in most games. The DS gets you actually playing a game inside of 20 seconds in most cases, and then you're just pounding pure gameplay nonstop -- I whipped through the first two missions in Advance Wars just on my morning train ride today. I admit there are some rad games on the PSP, but I feel like I have to sit down in a quiet place and devote some actual time to it. The DS is far superior as a quick fix, though it too serves for lengthier play sessions.

I hope I'm not sounding like a fanboy. I guess what I'm getting at here is big gigantic <3 for DS. Woo! I haven't been so excited about playing games in a long time. I actually wanna cut out of work just to play Advance Wars, which is a desire I rarely have these days.

Also, finished HL2 Episode One over the weekend and found it immensely satisfying. Was an interesting contrast to Sin Episodes, which I played through the weekend previous and found pretty fun, but markedly inferior by comparison. Will try to post about that later in the week.

Also, sorry for not making good on my offer in my last blog post (which is woefully now months old). I was too giddy just to have a new PC to think about stopping and documenting the experience. But rest assured she's puttering along nicely, because I know you were all waiting for that particular exciting conclusion.
  • 19 results
  • 1
  • 2