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Herrix Blog

Are we playing the same games?

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I'm beginning to think that Gamespot reviewers live in a parallel universe in which games that suck actually rock, and vice versa. I just rented Kameo, which won all sorts of praise from Gamespot for its gameplay and "thrilling" boss battles. Granted, it was pretty neat at first, but as I kept playing it became obvious that the boss battles were not only the worst parts of the game, but completely ruined the experience for me. One such encounter involved an electricity-spewing squid, who would fire lightning at you every few seconds, forcing you to keep moving. Your only hope was to change into Major Ruin, a coked-up armadillo whose only means of transportation is to roll around in his shell, and knock bombs into the squid. Sounds pretty straightforward, except what with having to dodge electricity bolts while trying to find a bomb and line up your shot before the bombs explode,I almost never got an opening, and I had to just run around in a circle until the opportune moment. Finally I saw a chance, aimed carefully, and WHACK! the bomb went rolling sideways at almost a 90 degree angle from the trajectory of my character and completely missed the target. Then it was time for 5 more minutes of tedious rolling around aimlessly while trying in vain not to die. Well, I finally hit the damn thing, and it sank under the waves, forcing me to engage it as Deep Blue, a character whose specialtywas swimming...badly. Controlling him underwater was unnecessarily clunky and awkward, as was his aim. Hecould fire torpedoes, which did little good since the tentacles I had to hit were flailing around wildly. It also didn't help that I absolutely COULD NOT AIM the freaking guy at anything smaller than Mars. I was alotted only a small amount of time to damagethe squidbefore he resurfaced and I had to perform that stupid tedious bomb ritual again. I eventually died...of boredom, and after about a half an hour I just gave up and punched the nearest pillow for another thirty minutes.

On the flip side, Gamespot utterly butchered Tenchu Z, the newest installment in an admittedly lagging stealth action series. The first Tenchu was received with great aplomb, but its sequels did little to improve or expand the experience as the AI never became any smarter although the systems they were featured on grew more advanced. It did have problems, but a "poor" rating? That's way too harsh. At the very least it was a step forward, finally taking into acount such things as how much noise your footsteps were making, as well as a "Thief"-inspired light meter which showed how visible you were. Those familiar with Tenchu know that hiding on a rooftop or ledge above your opponent was a sure way to evade detection, but in Z enemies could spot you on a roof even from an unaware state. They could also hear you if you didn't creep quietly, or even smell you if you were drenched in blood or something even nastier, like samurai pee. They could even hear the sound of your sword being drawn, which is pretty sweet since the previous Tenchus just had your character brandish his weapon(s) the entire time while his sheath decayed from neglect. Also, the series has almost done away with contrived boss fights (something Kameo could definitely have benefitted from), making it possible to stealth-kill bosses if you so chose. Still, even though the enemies were better at spotting you, they still didn't linger in "anger" mode very long after you dropped out of sight. Personally, I think most stealth games coddle players too much, and should have the foes continue to search for you until one of you is dead, especially on the harder difficulties.

Tenchu boasts fifty missions, but the count was actually much less than that. Many of the missions were just different layouts of previous levels, which previous Tenchus were honest enough to admit to. Still, the missions were fun enough to warrant more than one playthrough, and many of them could be skipped if the player wished. Also, the game has a feature whereby you can create your own ninja. You can't beat that with a bo staff.

To conclude: NEVER TRUST REVIEWS. Much of this stuff is subjective, I know, but I draw the line when the reviewer is wrong about the plain facts of a game. Trust your own instincts instead, and your local rental store. :)

Finally picked up a 360

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As indicated by my last post, I finally bought a 360; thanks to some gift certificates I received for Christmas I was able to pick one up for the price of a Wii.  So far I'm not impressed; I've played Perfect Dark Zero, Need for Speed Most Wanted, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fight Night Round 3 and Dead or Alive 4, and so far only Need for Speed has lived up to my expectations for it.  It's a fun racing game with the extra police-chase thrill, so I anticipate lots of tense chases/races in my immediate future.

As for Dead or Alive 4, I cannot even begin to conceive why this series is at all popular if this game is its best installment.  It might be a decent game, but I'll never know because it seems to be designed to keep new players from becoming good at it.  Dead or Alive has no easy difficulty; it begins at Normal and goes up to Very Hard.  Even at Normal the computer characters are very aggressive and give you no chance to develop any kind of strategy.  There is the obligatory "dummy mode" that allows you to practice on an inert opponent whom you can command to perform certain actions, but it in no way prepares you for the actual combat.  It's very fast-paced, which sounds good at first but the pacing eliminates any strategic element and lowers the game to just a simple button-masher.  Even wins are unsatisfying because you tend to luck into them rather than outsmarting or outfighting your opponent.  Once I learned how the countering worked, I found I was at a disadvantage from before because I actually tried to be the smarter fighter.  In other words, I was earning more KO's when I was just pushing random buttons.

Perfect Dark Zero is an okay game.  It looks great but the designers made some inexcusably stupid decisions with many of their levels.  Very few of the objectives make sense or have the effect they are supposed to.  For example, at one point you are expected to jam enemy radios only to find that your opponents have organized an ambush for you at the end of the mission despite the lack of communication.  In the same mission, you have to fend off an enemy airship by blowing out one of its engines, and whether or not you complete this objective, the same airship will be waiting for you at the end with a magically rebuilt engine.  Also, one mission's success or failure hinges on you doing surveillance on certain characters without them spotting you or you killing them, but once you do you're free to kill them and everyone standing around them.  It's all very superfluous and pointless, and the game is full or moronic bullcrap like this.

Even the Elder Scrolls IV, which might be a great game once I'm into it, is very frustrating because I chose to be a thief who cannot sneak and who apparently cannot get away with anything.  The stealth engine was designed by those who worked on the Thief series, which is the best stealth series ever made.  However, the stealth element in this game is mediocre at best, despite the Gamespot reviewer's claim that it works better than most games that specialize in stealth.  The sneaking in this game consists of an eye that pops up whenever you crouch, and it glows brightly when you're detectable and dulls when you're hidden.  That's it.  Also, the magistrates of Tamriel seem to know whenever you've stolen anything or done anything wrong even though nobody ever saw you or caught you in the act.  I even tried dropping all the articles marked with a red hand (meaning "stolen") in my inventory, and I was still caught.  I was hoping to do or be anything I wished, but that's just simply not the case in Oblivion.

I'm trying to find some more games for the 360 that are not simply dog turds that have been mashed down and shaped in the form of CD's, and that cost somewhat less than the ridiculous price of $60.  I have my eye on "Kameo," but I'll probably rent it first so I don't waste any more money.  I already have enough thirty-dollar coasters at my place.

Total Punch Control and other misnomers

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I know I'm in the minority, but I hate Fight Night 3!!  Unlike its predecessor, it now takes a full second after you input a power punch for your character to actually throw it.  I don't care how many ripples flow across a boxer's face when you knock him down; if my fighter throws haymakers like a tranquilized grizzly bear then the game isn't worth a damn.  The old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Well, if it's already fixed, don't break it.  The punch speed was fine in Round 2 but it's much too slow and clumsy now.

The analog control of the "Fight Night" franchise is an interesting approach to the gameplay but it does have problems.  Combos of heavy punches are more difficult to throw than with buttons and many times my fighter will throw the wrong type of punch, typically a hook instead of an uppercut or vice versa, even though I tilted my right analog stick in the proper course.  If I really had "total punch control," that would NEVER happen, but it happens to me all the time.  I really hope Midway doesn't adopt a "total buttkick control" system for Mortal Kombat that govers all punches and kicks, because I'm absolutely certain I would lose many fights because I accidentally elbowed myself in the groin.  Baraka wins...VASECTOMY!

Speaking of Mortal Kombat, there is a term used by the developers called "Kreate-a-Fatality," which supposedly describes a custom fatality mode for Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.  It's actually just a series of pre-programmed punches, limb-amputations, kicks, decapitations and other nasty maneuvers that you can do in a flexible sequence.  In other words, it's a more open-ended Brutality akin to those seen in Mortal Kombat Trilogy.  Though it is fun to experiment with, if it really lived up to its name there would be a list of options, such as which body part to target and with what move (special or otherwise), and what would happen to the body part as a result (would it catch fire, freeze, explode, fall off, or just bleed?).  When I first heard of Kreate-A-Fatality I thought you'd be able to program fatalities for custom characters.  With my first character, who looks exactly like me except he's (a tad) more buff, I'd pull up my shirt, exposing my fishbelly-white torso and roast my hapless victim with the blinding sunbeam reflecting from my Caucasian flesh.  I have another character who's a standard MK ninja except that he's brown and lives in the sewer.  His name is Vermin and he is the chosen champion of the Turdish peoples of Sewerrealm.  If he really had his own fatalities, nobody in the MK universe would ever want to fight him.  EVER.

One more thing; I've never fully understood the term "Role-playing game" to decribe a turn-based fantasy adventure.  Are not all games "role-playing?"  I'm not the Master Chief, Tommy Vercetti or Liu Kang; I'm just playing their roles (and doing a damn good job at it, I might add, except I still get my cyborg buttocks handed to me by those sword-wielding elites on Halo's Legendary difficulty).

The point of this whole rant is, don't be fooled by what game companies call the features of their own titles, because although they can be accurate, most of the time they're just marketing ploys used to sell discs.  Not that that's a bad or immoral thing; I wouldn't expect Sony or Microsoft to call something That One Feature We Couldn't Quite Perfect Because of Time and Budget Constraints, so it is up to the discretion of the consumer.  In this day and age you just have to be willing to sniff up a certain amount of bullcrap if you want to keep your senses keen.

Et tu, Sony?

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Here's the apparent rundown: the XBox 360 is not backwards compatible, the Wii has a name that a dolphin might utter if it were capable of masturbation, and now the new Playstation is going to cost as much as I could get for my car if I didn't need it to drive to work and earn enough money to buy game systems.  I have a terrible feeling that we're not going to be asking ourselves which one is the best, but rather, which one sucks the least?

At different points in my unpaid career as a gamer, I was the owner of the Gamecube, the PS2 and the XBox, and rather than tell a long complicated story about when and why I discarded one in favor of another, let's just abridge the tale by saying that I still have my XBox, and I know what I'm talking about when I say it's the system to have right now.  Custom soundtracks, a hard drive, graphical superiority...the game delays can be a bit of a pain (especially the GTA's...ouch!), but then again, I'm the kind of guy to wait until a movie comes out on DVD to save myself the headache of having some proud parent's newly-hatched offspring puke buttery popcorn-chunk-laden sputum all over my damn nachos at the theater.  I'm cool with the delays because the game you wind up with is typically the best version graphically, and having played some of the more popular multiple-port titles on my brother's PS2 (which, by the way, has the same scratch on it that my old one had, by some strange accident of fate), I can say that I didn't notice a whole lot of control issues between the two versions.  Yes, drive bys on the XBox version of San Andreas take some degree of adaptation; you have to take your foot (or thumb, really, unless you're a contortionist) off of the gas to shoot, but that's what they do in real drive-bys, isn't it?  "Hey Milton, let's see if you can hit that guy who tried to cap the Don at 75 miles per hour.  If you fail, we'll drive the other way at 65mph, and we'll keep doing this, each time decreasing our speed exponentially until you manage to whack the hapless individual in question.  Wait, dammit, I spent so much time explaining it that we drove right by him.  Let's turn around and...what?  This is a one-way street?  Well-played, Canelli.  We'll get you next time..."

Believe it or not, this does have a point.  When I say the XBox is the system to have right now, I'm not only comparing it to the current generation alternatives, but also the 360.  Sure, it has better graphics, but better games?  I played a few games on it, and though Fight Night Round 3 almost looks like two real people are duking it out in the ring, especially with no heads-up display, it didn't quite convince me that I should shell out the 400 smackers for the whole system.  The sad part is, the "better games" issue wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the compatibility problem.  So Microsoft, hurry up and resolve it, and for goodness' sake, stop competing with YOURSELF!  You're going to have plenty of competition come the end of the year; granted, the PlayStation 3's price tag might deter a few potential buyers, but knowing Sony I'll bet they have something up their sleeve to back it up with.

What the hell is a "Wii?"

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I saw the name for the new Nintendo a few days ago, but am just now starting to believe it.  I don't even know how to pronounce this damn thing.  Is it "Wii" as in, "Wheee, this is great!" or is it "W-2" like the tax form?  Nintendo, there's already a war with a similar name, and I doubt any of its participants would equate it to fun.  This is especially surprising when you consider that this is coming from a Japanese company, a country which I'm sure remembers the last two major events of that epic struggle with little fondness.  Let's stop reopening old wounds and let bygones be bygones!  Haven't you paid us back with that whole Pokemon thing?  Didn't it occur to you guys that stores keep expensive game systems locked in glass cabinets, and you must therefore ask the clerk to retrieve them for you?  I don't want to walk up to some attractive woman at Meijer who's only working there to pay her way through college and ask her for the new Nintendo by making a noise that sounds like a sea otter having an orgasm.

Like I indicated in my last episode of online ranting lunacy, I'm not too happy with Microsoft either.  What a bonehead move on their part failing to ensure that ALL their old games are playable on the new system.  I'm an XBox fan all the way, because I think XBox is the system to have right now.  It usually surpasses its rivals in terms of graphics, and though some games come out much later for the XBox than for the PS2 the improved versions are usually worth the wait.  However, and this is a subtle but important distinction: I AM NOT A MICROSOFT FAN.  I like products, not companies.  If the quality of a firm's products begins to slip, I switch to a different product.  So I might be saying XBox now, but next year I might be boasting about my Playstation 3.  It's like Jenna Jameson says when she picks out her next co-star: it's whoever has the best overall package at the time.

The XBox 360's issues.

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Can anyone convince me why I need one of these things right now?  I love the X-Box and I've been a collector of its games for a long time, but one of the main reasons I haven't rushed to the store and stiff-armed all the clerks in a rush to pick up the new system is because of the weird bugs that pop up with all of the old games, and there just aren't enough new titles to warrant buying a whole new console.  Every time I come to the forums I read comments like "Yeah, this game is great on the 360, if you can get used to the fact that the main character's head is now shaped like an anvil."  Oh, and I'm not paying $60 bucks for the 360 version of King Kong just so that the super simian's armpit hair is now more detailed than on the XBox and flutters in the breeze.  I'm not boycotting the 360 or anything, but if something isn't worth the money to me, I don't buy it.