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Greg-M Blog

From Ford Racing 3 to Rush 'n Attack

Today is my last day at GameSpot. I've worked here for more than three years, so I am sad to leave. It's time for me to take on a new challenge, but I'll always be a fan and reader of GameSpot. I visited this site long before I ever got a job here, and I will continue to do so long after I move on. I've had experiences here that I know I'll never forget, like trips to E3, Leipzig, and Barcelona, late night arguements about Game of the Year awards, and the always insane holiday rush. I've had a great time here, learned a lot, and met some incredibly skilled, funny, and intelligent people. So thanks to GameSpot and to all of you, it's been fun.

 

-Greg (M)

 

 

Apocalypse...POW!!

I think I might have found my reason to purchase a PlayStation 3...

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...It's just too bad about the cover art. And that goofy blue box...

It's, uh, Live!

I enjoy Xbox Live. It's a great service even if there are a lot of idiots using it. It took me awhile to warm up to the idea of paying a subscription fee to play games online, but I've since come to realize that with Xbox Live you get what you pay for. Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. With several million subscribers and growing, the future of Xbox Live looks pretty bright right now. But can the service thrive beyond the Xbox?

Microsoft thinks so, and it's getting ready to raise the second pillar of its Live Anywhere triad, Games For Windows – Live. The notion of a unified community of PC game players and Xbox 360 game players living in harmony is hopelessly romantic, but if anyone is in the position to make it happen, it's Microsoft. Personally I couldn't care less about playing games on my PC that I could just as easily play on my Xbox 360, but I'm holding out hope that Games for Windows – Live will be everything Microsoft is promising and more. But even if the service fails miserably, it should be an interesting experiment.

Although I don't see Games for Windows – Live ever enjoying the kind of widespread success of its Xbox counterpart, Microsoft is a tenacious beast with money to burn. There's nothing to lose by trying to cater to the PC crowd by marketing the newly released Vista operating system as a gaming-centric product. The biggest hurdle for Microsoft is fact that PC gamers have been playing games online for a decade, whereas console gamers have only been playing online in significant numbers for three or four years. For the past few years console owners looking to play games online had but two choices: Xbox Live and whatever third-party solution any given PlayStation 2 game offered. Xbox Live was the first widely successful, unified online gaming service for home consoles, and that's the reason people use it and are willing to pay to do so.

It's an entirely different story with PC gaming. The PC culture is averse to paying for anything, or even thinking about paying for anything. There are all kinds of free software and services online, legitimate and otherwise. Why would people start paying money all of a sudden, especially when they don't really get much for the investment?

Here's what you get for free with Games for Windows – Live:

Shared account between Games for Windows – Live and Xbox Live
Single-player Achievements
Private Text and Voice Chat
Friends List
PC-only Multiplayer

…and here's what you get for $50 per year:

Multiplayer Matchmaking with Friends
TrueSkill Matchmaking
Multiplayer Achievements
Cross-platform Multiplayer Gameplay

Based on that features list, I'd say it would certainly make sense to sign up for a Silver account on Games for Windows – Live. For one thing, it's free so there's no risk. More importantly, it brings together all the people playing (supported) PC games and makes it easy to set up multiplayer matches for said games. I'm not convinced that paying for a Gold membership will see as much of a return. I'm curious to see how Microsoft is going to convince PC game players that they should start paying for the privilege of playing against Xbox 360 players. Will anyone with a free account feel like they're missing out because they can't play with Xbox 360 players? If anything, I feel a bit cheated for paying for Xbox 360-only multiplayer for the past year when the PC people are getting a comparable service for free right out of the gate.

Although it doesn't make much sense to me, I'm sure there are people out there who will pay, if only for those multiplayer achievements. I do think that there is a demand for a unified online gaming service, and although there are some such services available, there's plenty of room for improvement. From a development standpoint, online play has been handled differently on the PC than on consoles. Instead of catering multiplayer games to a singular online community, PC developers have typically developed online functionality for each individual game, around which relatively small, insular communities form. For instance, there's a huge community of Counter-Strike players and a huge community of Battlefield players, but the two groups have nothing to do with one another. Sure, some people might play both games, but the groups at large have no reason to mingle, even though they share a common interest (team-based shooters). There have been exceptions, such as Battle.net, which is Blizzard's online community for the various iterations of Diablo, Warcraft, and Starcraft. Battle.net is highly successful with millions of active users worldwide, but it's limited to a handful of Blizzard games. It's also free, which puts it in a slightly different category than Games for Windows – Live.

So once again the question is, will you pay for Games for Windows – Live? It doesn't matter for me because I already pay for Xbox Live, so I'm a subscriber by default. I don't imagine I will ever use it though, simply because I prefer to play games on my Xbox 360 and it doesn't matter to me whether I'm playing against someone on a PC or a console. Now if I could play an Xbox 360 game against someone with the same game on a PlayStation 3, that would be something worth getting excited about. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out by the end of the year, with PC gamers earning Halo 2 achievements while Xbox 360 gamers busy themselves with Halo 3. What do you think? Will Games for Windows – Live bring about a utopian state of free love and headshots between PC and Xbox 360 players?

Role-pending

On game-related message boards like our very own GameSpot forums, you'll often see people refer to their ever-growing backlog of games. It's a phenomenon that's unique to video games, because unlike other forms of entertainment media, video games are designed to occupy large amounts of your time. You might miss a movie you wanted to see, but all it takes is a couple of hours and a Netflix account to get caught up. If one of your favorite music artists releases a new album you'll probably listen to it right away, and musical tastes are usually specific enough that you can hear a song once and know whether or not you like it. That takes all of what, three minutes? With a video game, you usually have to put in at least a few hours to really get a feel for it.

For a person like me the backlog can be a very serious problem, because my tastes are very broad. I like just about every kind of game, from Fight Night and MotoGP to Resident Evil 4 and Guitar Hero. Those are all great games and I could probably play them for hundreds of hours each if all other games suddenly ceased to exist. But at the same time, I don't feel like I need to play each of those games for that much time to truly enjoy them. My problem is that I also happen to be a big fan of role-playing games, which are entirely different. You could compare role-playing games and most other games to reading a book versus reading a magazine. Books have a very deliberate pace and they're structured to deliver a longer, more detailed picture of the subject matter than magazines are. When you pick up a magazine you don't have to read it cover to cover, you can read an article here, an editorial there, do the crossword puzzle in the back, and be done. There's nothing that annoys me more than starting a role-playing game, getting half-way through it, and then losing interest or moving on to another game. It's like reading half of a book. There's always a lingering feeling that I've got some unfinished business, and that just bugs me.

The result is a backlog full of role-playing games. There are so many in fact that I could quit my job and play the games full-time, and never reach the end. But as appealing as that sounds, it wouldn't be much fun. After all, not every role-playing game is really worth playing. Just as with any other type of game, there are a lot of bad ones out there that would gladly eat up all your precious time and money. At times like these you can only afford to play the best of the best, so I've made a list of a few games that should be at the very top of your list if you're a fan of RPGs. Note that all of these games have or will come out this year. I have played some of these games, but I'm including them in the list for the reference of others.


Role-Playing To-Do's

-Final Fantasy XII - I don't know if this game will be any good, but I know that I have to play it. I have played through Final Fantasy VI, VII, IX, X, and Tactics, and they are some of my favorite games of all time--in any genre. I can't promise that I'll finish it, but I'll definitely put Final Fantasy XII at the top of my to-do list when it comes out later this month.

-The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - If you haven't played this already you should move it to the top of your list. I've spent 40 or 50 hours with this game so far, and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Some people might call this more of an action game, but it has the scope and feel of a role-playing game, so it might be time for you to give the spikey-haired teen heroes a break.

-Neverwinter Nights 2 - I'll be honest, I haven't seen much of this game so far. However, for people looking for a traditional PC-style role-playing game it looks like NWN2 is the game to look forward to. It may be developed by Obsidian rather than BioWare, but those guys did a great job with KOTOR 2, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt with the sequel to one of the best PC role-playing games of all time.

-Final Fantasy VI Advance - Alright, so this game might very well not make it out this year, but I still have to hold out hope. Final Fantasy VI is a masterpiece, and I would place it above any other of the Final Fantasy games that I've played (other than Tactics). Yes, it's even better than VII. I have played this game on the SNES and the PlayStation, so I'm very curious to see that changes will be made for the Game Boy Advance release. But even if it's just a port, I'll gladly drop everything to go back and visit Terra, Locke, Shadow, Celes, Kefka, and the whole crew.



That's my list for now. You could probably spend 100 hours or more with each of these games, but for the sake of being practical let's assume that it will take about 40 hours to beach each one. If you add it up that's 160 hours of game time, which is more than enough to blow your entire Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. And that's just four games.

If you find yourself with more time, then by all means give a look to Disgaea 2, Tales of the Abyss, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, Baten Kaitos Origins, Xenosaga Episode III, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Final Fantasy III, Enchanted Arms, and Final Fantasy V Advance.

This time of year in the video game world is a lot like when your family comes over for Thanksgiving, and each person brings some delicious dish or dessert. You want to eat it all, but if you're not careful you'll end up filling up on your Mom's mashed potatoes and you'll never make it to your Sister In-Law's pumpkin pie. I find myself in a similar predicament now. Beyond all the games I'll end up reviewing, I have to make time for Guitar Hero II, Gears of War, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. And I still haven't had time to finish Dead Rising or Okami...

Weekend Movies

For some reason I've ended up watching way too many movies recently. I usually try to keep up on the buzz-worthy releases, but I rarely have time to devote to seeing everything that comes out. So once in awhile I find myself unintentionally playing catch-up by watching three or four movies in a short period of time. Here are a some I've seen within the last week:

Night Watch

In preparing to review the Night Watch game I went out and rented the movie. I was really dreading watching it, because I heard from several people that it was a confusing mess of a movie. So going into it I was expecting it to be complete rubbish. To my surprise, I ended up enjoying the movie quite a bit. I think it helped that I played the game first, because the game does a much better job of explaining the underlying concepts of the story. If you're a fan of vampires, special effects, and the supernatural you should definitely check out the movie. As for the game, you'll just have to read my full review when it goes up next week.

House of the Dead

Over the long weekend I happened to catch House of the Dead on the Sci-Fi channel. Having heard so much about the movie I figured I might as well watch it. It's actually the first and only Uwe Boll movie I've seen, and after watching it I can see why people trash the guy. It's one of those movies that as you watch you find yourself wondering if the director, writers, and actors are all aware that they're befouling not only the source material, but movies in general. At some point I have to imagine that they knew the movie was terrible, so they just decided to go whole hog and make it as terrible as they possibly could. Good lord that movie is so bad, it really boggles the mind. That scene where the group is running towards the house while jumping around and shooting zombies to techno music is so overdone that it would be hilarious if it didn't drag on for 10 minutes. Ugh, and that rave scene with like ten people dancing around underneath the giant SEGA sign, and the girl dressed in the stars and stripes jumpsuit whose name is...Liberty? After watching that movie I must say that my faith in Sega was shaken for allowing the name of one of their franchises to be soiled like that. But then I booted up The Typing of the Dead and after a few minutes of that all was forgiven.

The Hills Have Eyes

I had seen this in the theater awhile back and I thought it was a pretty decent movie, but I realized that what I like about it is the way it reminds me of Resident Evil 4. Specifically the scene in the house with that huge mutant guy and the hero. That huge guy with the axe reminds me of one of the Chainsaw Ganados, just a hulking mass that flails about erratically and destroys everything in its path. I like this concept, and it's done fairly well in The Hills Have Eyes. The rest of the movie is alright, if a bit uncomfortable to watch. Someday I'll have to watch the original. I think it has the lead singer of Midnight Oil in it, which is cool I guess?

Superman Returns

I did the obligatory summer moviegoer thing and saw Superman Returns. It was pretty dull actually, but I thought the guy playing Superman did a fair job. I think that Lois Lane and Lex Luthor were mis-cast though. Lois was just kind of snooty and annoying, to the point that you have to wonder why the hell Superman keeps saving her. Lex Luthor on the other hand was just silly. I'm admittedly not a big Kevin Spacey fan, I think he's kind of tiresome to watch because he always plays the same character. In this movie he was supposed to be a villain, but he wasn't at all sinister or even interesting. He was just a bumbling idiot, like a less crass version of Dr. Evil. In fact, the best performance in the whole movie was from the guy who plays Cyclops in X-Men. He actually seemed somewhat human, unlike the rest of the cast.

That's it for my movie wrap-up. I'm sure I'll end up seeing the new Pirates of the Caribbean soon, although I heard it isn't so great...










Good Luck to Your Next Journey

I downloaded the Prey demo over the weekend and played through it twice. I haven't tried the multiplayer, but the single-player game seems very promising. The portals and wall-walking are pretty cool tricks, but beyond that the atmosphere just seems sinister and gross, which is pretty cool. The game is extremely disorienting at times, but I kind of like that. There's something to be said for a game that can elicit a physical reaction from you.

I played Prey at home with the settings maxed and the game looked pretty good and ran smoothly. I'm curious to see how the Xbox 360 version compares. I thought I would hate the weapons, just because that funky alien stuff doesn't do much for me, but in practice the weapons don't feel much different than the weapons in any other first-person shooter. One of my favorite little discoveries while playing the demo was the little sucker tentacle thing that sticks itself to your eye when you activate the alternate fire mode with the hunter rifle.

At the moment Prey is the Xbox 360 game that I'm looking forward to the most. It's really weird that right now my two favorite Xbox 360 games are sports games. I've always enjoyed the odd football or racing game, but those genres have never been my favorites. Now Fight Night Round 3 and MotoGP 06 are the only two games I still play on the 360.

I'm usually into action adventure games or role-playing games, but there haven't been too many of those on the 360 yet. However, there is one extra cheesy game coming up that looks like it's right up my alley, and that's Culdcept Saga. As much as I played the original, I can't help but be excited about this one. The problem is I think only about a dozen people know what Culdcept is or why its saga is coming to the Xbox 360. The original game came out on the PlayStation 2 back in 2003, and sold a whopping 11,000 copies.

I picked the game up a few years after it was released because I saw it for five bucks in some bargain bin and I remembered Greg Kasavin giving it a pretty positive review. Once I actually figured out the system I became addicted and would play battle after battle trying to collect new cards. I even got a few of my friends hooked and we'd constantly play versus battles and trade cards. In fact, I still play the game from time to time, and I was just playing it last weekend actually. The only problem I have with the game is that it takes forever to finish a match. I've had single battles last three hours or more, so it's not really a pick up and play kind of game. Hopefully Culdcept Saga will address that problem, but even if it doesn't I'll still play it as long as it still has this guy in it:








Oblivious

I finally gave in a bought an Xbox 360 and so far I'm loving it. The only games I own are Oblivion, Geometry Wars, and Fight Night Round 3, but that covers my basic interests fairly well.

Oblivion is awesome so far. I've been playing for 12 hours according to the play clock and I've barely even started the main quest. I've been having a blast just exploring the countryside and chatting with the townfolk. The NPCs in this game are actually interesting to talk to sometimes, which is refreshing for a role-playing game. I love the fact that I can save anywhere, go on a crime spree, and then reload my save and do it all over again. I played by the rules for quite awhile, but then in Skingrad I decided to see what would happen if I stole a horse. So I hopped on the horse and took off. When I was a safe distance from town I got off the horse to see if it would run away or stick by me. Just then a wolf attacked the horse and I tried to shoot the wolf with flare but instead I hit the horse, which pissed it off. So the horse killed the wolf, then came after me. I fought the horse for awhile and then it ran away so I chased after it. The stupid horse lead me into a bandit camp where a bandit tried to kill me while the horse ran off. So I fought the bandit for awhile when all of a sudden the horse comes back through the camp being chased by two goblins, who then started going after me. So I wasted the bandit, killed the goblins, killed another wolf that showed up, and finally finished off the horse. It was all completely ridiculous, but a lot of fun nonetheless.

I'm looking foward to trying to play through the game as different classes too, just to see what it's like. Right now I'm a spellsword, but I think I'll play a thief if I play through the game again.

The only gripe I have about the game is the load times. When I'm outside walking around the game constantly hangs up for a couple seconds to load each area. It happens often enough to be really annoying, but it's not bad enough to make me want to play the game. I haven't heard many other people complain about it though, so maybe I just got a lemon.

Shooters From Mars

After talking with Greg K. a little while back I decided to pick up Castle Shikigami 2. I had to order it online because I couldn't find it in stores anywhere. With shipping I think it was something like $12, which is crazy when you consider that it really isn't any less of a game than most of the more expensive games on the shelf. The game isn't perfect by any means, but it's definitely a good game if you like vertically scrolling shooters.

The weirdest part of the game is the dialogue. It's completely mind blowing how terrible it is. Think of "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" and then try to imagine a conversation exclusively in those broken terms. The characters speak english, but it's so screwed up that they might as well be speaking Portugese. Here's an example of one line that I found particularly funny:

"Holy Cow! Got a clue. Now this?"

Bear in mind that there's absolutely no context for that, one of the characters just says that for some reason. Weirder still is that all of the dialogue is voiced, so you can imagine the voice actors thinking, "What the hell am I saying, this makes no sense at all!" But, apparently they didn't find it bizarre, or they just wanted to collect their food stamps and be on their way. It almost seems like the developers took existing conversations and just edited them together to get a tattered conversation that seems appropriate only in a David Lynch film or psychiatric institute of some sort.

Anyway, despite the translation, Castle Shikigami 2 is actually a really fun game, and the dialogue just gives you more incentive to play through to see what kind of bizarre exchange you'll be treated to next.

After playing for awhile and trying out a few of the characters I decided to check out the boards here to see if anyone is actually playing the game. Apparently there aren't many people playing, but I did manage to find some information on a series of shooters that I was previously completely unaware of for the PC. Apparently there's this guy who goes by the name ZUN who makes what he calls "curtain fire" shooters, where basically a mass of bullets fills the entire screen. I've played a lot of shooters, but somehow I had never heard of these games before. There are quite a few of them, and it looks like you can download them for free.

Here's a picture from one of the games, called Perfect Cherry Blossom:



The game looks completely insane. It might make a nice screensaver, but it looks a bit excessive for a shooter. Still, I think I might give it a shot sometime just for kicks.

Worst. Ending. Ever.

I managed to finish the last book in Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and I have to say I'm very disappointed with how it turned out. Of course, it's nearly impossible to write an ending to such a huge epic like that, but it seems that it could have been handled much better. It also doesn't inspire confidence when the author writes a long, apologetic afterword explaining that he had no control over the story and the story took on a life of its own and so on. I believe that to an extent, but after reading about 4000 pages the ending is just so anticlimactic that you can't help but feel cheated. I could have done without the last two books in the series actually, as they didn't seem to accomplish anything at all.

Oh well, I just finished the last book about a week ago, so maybe I'll learn to appreciate it over time. Either way, I'm glad to be moving on to something different. As of yet, I don't know what book I'll pick up next, but I'm considering Feersum Endjinn By Iain Banks. I don't even like sci-fi, but I love the way that guy writes. He wrote The Wasp Factory, which is one of the darkest, most intriguing books I've ever read. He also wrote The Player of Games, which I read earlier this year and really enjoyed. So, I'll give this other one a shot and hope for the best. Even if it sucks it's only a few hundred pages, as opposed to a few thousand.

Aside from turning a few pages here and there, I've been playing games as usual. Still playing Guitar Hero several times a week, and I still can't even come close to beating Cowboys From Hell or Bark at the Moon on expert difficulty. People have been asking me if I'll play any games over the holiday break, and I think I will. I'll at least play some Guitar Hero, and probably some Culdcept or something. I've been really tempted to play through Resident Evil 4 again, but I'm going out of town for the holidays and I'm not bringing a GameCube. Oh well, maybe I'll just have to wait for RE5.

On that note, happy holidays to everyone and here's hoping for another great year in 2006!

Guitar Hero(in)

Guitar Hero is ruining my life, and I'm powerless to stop it. Every evening after I'm done with work I'll take a break from whatever game I'm reviewing at the moment to play a couple songs. I can usually call it a night after a song or two, but sometimes I just keep going for one more song until I realize I've been playing for an hour already. Multiplayer is really where it's at though, because even if you completely screw up the song you don't get cut off until the song is over. That makes it a bit more fun to play songs on Hard or Expert difficulty, because you can last for more than 30 seconds.

One thing I've noticed about that game though is that it seems to elicit all kinds of profanity from the people who play it. It's kinda like lightning and thunder. First you hear the "ding" or "bong" the game makes when you miss a note, and immediately after that you hear a strained f-bomb or just an aggravated growl come from whoever's playing. I was thinking of bringing the game to my parents house to rock out over Christmas break, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to curtail my swearing in front of the family. It would probably be safer to bust out Culdcept to play with my cousins.

But this is the first Christmas after a recent console launch, surely I should be playing an Xbox 360 on Christmas morn rather than a couple of crusty old PlayStation 2 games, right? Well, I don't think so really. There isn't anything on the Xbox 360 that immediately appeals to me. I really want to play Dead or Alive 4, but not enough to spend all that money. I was pretty impressed watching Bob play Call of Duty 2 at work the other day, but again, not enough to justify such a huge investment. Especially not when there are still songs to play in Guitar Hero, or Colossi to kill in Shadow of the Colossus.

And I'm still not done with The Dark Tower. I'm so close to the end too, but I just haven't had the time. Usually I read on the train on the way to work, but lately I've been using that time to play handheld games, or write up reviews. Thanksgiving break is coming up though, and I'm going to spend a couple hours one day to finally finish the saga before I forget everything that's happened.

For now I'm back to finishing up my review of Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble so I can move on the next few smokin' hot titles I have lined up in my review queue.
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