T-Prime Blog

T-Prime's Top 10 Games of 2013

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Howdy, Gamespot. You sure look nicer than you did last I left you. Maybe I'll come calling a bit more now that your blogging layout isn't stuck in 2007. ;)

My rules: if I first played a game this year, it qualifies. 2013 was so much better than 2012. I had a really hard time with my top five, 'cause the quality differences between them are as small as any range of rankings on GameRankings.com. I mean, is there really a big difference between a 98.72%, a 98.61% game and a 98.56% game? But I digress.

The others: their previous installments have been featured in my GOTY space before, but Crysis 3 and Dead Space 3 couldn't crack my Top 10 this year. Each are fine games but both have a myriad of problems that don't let them rise above everything else. I'm PS4-less and will be for most of this year at the very least: I still have too many PS3 games to play and just can't justify that kind of money on a useless (at the moment) box. I've historically waited at least a year and a half to get a new console since the start of that generation. I got a SNES in April 1994, an N64 in December 1998, a GameCube in April 2003 and a PS3 in April 2009. When will the PS4 / Xbox One / WiiU (HA!) arrive? We'll see. But for now...

10 - The Walking Dead (+ season 2, episode 1)

The Walking Dead was one of the first games I played in 2013. I waited for the boxed copy of all five episodes and wanted to plow through them. Episode 1 left a good first impression, and after not going back for a while I burned through episodes 2 to 5 fairly quickly. I know I would've appreciated them more if I'd waited between episodes but I just couldn't put it down once the motel alliances got going, and it was a roller-coaster of choices, regrets and emotions all the way to the bitter end. Lee, Clem, Kenny, you guys are always gonna be in my head.

And I'm throwing the first episode of season 2 in here as a "bonus." It was short and sweet, and I know the full season will be on this list next year.

9 - Batman: Arkham Origins

Batman: Arkham Origins gives you more Batman. No more, no less. So many things are wrong with Arkham Origins, mostly falling under the umbrella of "obligatory low-effort sequel." But the thing is, it all still works very well. The combat still feels great and is fun to do, the sandbox of Gotham is still fun to romp around in (if slightly too big to be completely comfortable), the gadgets are still fun (disregarding any prequel/canon issues) and the story is actually strong, even if in hindsight I should've seen most of the twists coming. I like losing myself in a game, and "value for your gaming dollar" and some bug issues aside, Batman: Arkham Origins is still a game you can get lost in.

8 - Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 doesn't do any one thing particularly well, but it's just such a well-crafted all-around open-world game that it doesn't need any back-of-the-box bullet points (pun intended). The guns handle well. The upgrading system is a bit annoying but works extremely well. The organic-ness of the world is so good that you can reload a save at a stronghold six times and have taking the stronghold work out six completely different ways. The sandbox is great in that you can run in any direction and only return to your main objective hours later, after finding all the lost diamonds and skinning all the rare animals you can find. And the story, while still laughable and face-palming at points, works at enough points that I felt genuinely drawn in by it. Oh, and choose to leave the island at the end. The "stay on the island" ending is the dumbest thing I've seen since what happened to Rad Spencer's wife in Bionic Commando.

7 - Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Four years after buying it and five years after it came out, I at last played, finished and loved Metal Gear Solid 4 in 2013, and it was one hell of a ride. I played Twin Snakes and the PS3 HD collection before diving into Guns of the Patriots, and the refresher course felt a little obsolete when every chatacter in the game decided to explain everything single thing incredibly thoroughly. But it still looks fabulous, the numerous winks at the older games while still being its own game were appreciated and the controls were no problem when you have three previous games with horrible antiquated controls fresh in your mind. ;-) I'm sorry it took me so long, MGS4. You were worth the wait.

6 - Remember Me

Remember Me is such a weirdly lovable game. As I was playing as Nilin, the memory hunter, the words "Mirror's Edge" kept repeating in my head because they feel so similar. Yes, their from different perspectives (1st vs. 3rd person) and the pace doesn't match, but their both so utterly, incredibly unique. The dystopian cityscapes you climb around and fight in feel so right. The memory-altering sections are the best new feature I've seen what feels like forever; I just wish there would've been more of them. The combat gets extremely entertaining when you unlock the ability to chain together longer and longer combos with different abilities (or "Pressens"). And for Remember Me's shortfalls and linearity, fighting giant robots by insta-hacking other robots from a distance and building up such a powerful combo than all your health regenerates as you KO five enemies at the same time just feels so fun.

5 - Tomb Raider

I was never a Tomb Raider player. I never owned a PS1 and Lara Croft was a ghost of herself by the time she initially arrived on PS3 in Tomb Raider: Underworld. The Uncharted series that I've loved so much is always compared to Tomb Raider for better and worse, and this Tomb Raider struck a chord with me when I decided to buy it without renting it first. That usually ends in a significant amount of heartbreak. This time it ended with one of the few games in the last few years that I played more than a couple of times for the game itself and not because I was hunting for collectibles and Playstation trophies (though those certainly didn't hurt). Perhaps only having a vague idea about who Lara is meant to become lends itself to my immersion in her journey, but it was such a great-looking, well-controlled, expansive journey filled with great characters and great moments that it really was a plus. Play Tomb Raider.

4 - The Last of Us

For all the praise that's been heaped onto The Last of Us, this was really a dark horse for me this year. On the plus side, it has the best first 20 to 30 minutes you will ever play in a video game, bar none. It breaks your heart and sets Joel's entire mindset up perfectly. On the minus side, the three hours after that are too focused on setting up the world and not enough on setting up the game; too many glimpses of the ruined world within the QZ and not enough of explaining how I'm supposed to effectively navigate the world, save for learning how to throw bricks and Joel using his Batman-esque hearing. The Last of Us is also a bit stingy with player training: I had to pause and look up the controls on my phone after not touching it for a few days because, like too many games these days, TLoU doesn't list the controller layout in the menus and my mind decided to try controlling Joel like Nathan Drake; that ended with Joel's throat getting chewed up after attempting to stealth past too many regular zombie and one clicker I didn't notice. Joel and Ellie escaped the first city and I finally starting warming to them as a duo, even if I found the pairing slightly forced.

But the contrast of the state of the world to Joel and Ellie's attitudes is what eventually won me over. Here's this girl who knows nothing of the world before the outbreak, and she's just as much of a 14-year-old tomboy as one here in the real world; cursing like a sailor 'cause she likely just recently learned how, sulking like her parents have dragged her to their bank appointment, wanting to read comic books and just messing with Joel. Her inability to swim didn't strike me as a game-like escort quest, but genuinely that a girl raised in this world likely has no reason to learn how to swim. The scene in which she runs off on a horse, breaks into an old house and reads a long-abandoned diary struck me the most: "Is this really what they worried about?" she asked Joel, as if boys, makeup tips and pop stars were vital to teenage girls' survival before the world went to hell. Ellie was so surrounded by death and horror but never let it affect her 'cause that's just the world now.

And, of course, there's the ending. It completely flew over my head the first time, and took a good amount of time and internal debate and processing for me to really "get" it. I thought of it too much like a Hollywood movie, and when it didn't end in a very formulaic way it threw me for a loop and made me feel almost resentful. But stewing on it, thinking about it, going back to it in my mind over and over may just be what the developers were intending. The perfect chase, the perfect rescue, the perfect cut to black make The Last of Us stand out in my mind.

Oh, and the multiplayer's alright. I should probably play more of it.

3 - Borderlands 2

2013 was a much better year than 2012, but if it hadn't been than Borderlands 2 could've easily followed up its predecessor as GOTY for the first half of the year, easily. The core Borderlands game and concept worked amazingly well, so a few tweaks, UI changes and new classes was really all it needed to add to the new parts of the world of Pandora to be easily remembered years from now. Just watch, Borderlands 3 will be the game that gets me to jump onto the PS4 bandwagon.

2 - Bioshock Infinite

I waited this long into January to do this just to make sure that Bioshock Infinite, the last game I finished in 2013, did belong on this list and I wasn't simply on an adrenaline high. Well, here I am saying that Bioshock Infinite has rightfully earned its spot on here. The chemistry between Booker and Elizabeth is second to none when it comes to "sidekicks" in video games, the setting, decor and visuals are truly something to get completely absorbed in, and the numerous uses of alternate realites and "tears" make the story a story that you can churn over in your mind and still not completely understand, but be completely satisfied with. Much like The Last of Us, the ending really makes Bioshock Infinite, and if Irrational has any sense they'll end Bioshock right here. There's no better way to go.

1 - Saints Row IV (also Saints Row: The Third)

This one was a dogfight in my head, but after playing the How The Saints Save Christmas DLC on Christmas Eve and re-aquainting myself with Saints Row IV, I couldn't not give my GOTY to this game. Well, these games. I've cheated in this category before (Guitar Hero I & II in '06, Uncharted 1 & 2 in '09) so perhaps I was due. I only even touched Saints Row The Third because it was a PS+ freebie, but it was such a breath of fresh air in its simple fun-ness that I couldn't stop playing it and felt genuinely surprised each night when I'd look at my clock and it would be hours later than I thought it was. Three months later, it felt the exact same thing with Saints Row IV, but even more so due to its new Infamous/Crackdown-inspired gameplay. Its crudeness and utter insanity are all simaltaneously just utter dumb fun and also biting commentary on the "morality" of characters in games: The Boss is a well-known utter psychopath who loves violence, cursing and death, which is exactly how we all behave in video games in the first place. The superpowers coupled with the sandbox definitely make SRIV stand above SRTT, but since I played them once after the other they're pretty much the same lengthy game in my head. But for simplicity’s sake, if I have to take only one off my shelf to put a sticker on, it goes to IV. Rise up, Saints Row IV to be crowned my Game of the Year for 2013.

T-Prime's Top 10 Games of 2012

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(TheVGPress mirror)

More than one week into 2013, I've finally gotten my best of 2012 list down pat. My rules: the game didn't have to come out this year, but I have to have played it for the first time in a given year. Without further ado...

10) Resident Evil 6

RE6

I don't know if it's a desire to please my inner fanboy or the utter and stark realization that I played a lot of bad games this year, but despite the schizophrenic feelings I have for it Resident Evil 6 finds its way into my #10 slot. I found so many things wrong with this game, from the controls feeling out of date and the strange checkpointing to too many supposedly thrilling moments feeling too much like work. Yet, there was something glistening underneath all that modern-day muck. There were things that pushed a lot of the right buttons like Leon's cockiness, Chris's badassery, the returns of Sherry and Ada, the monster design, and the use of silly keys to open doors. It also helps a lot that the A.I. partners actually help a lot more than Sheva did in RE5. It's just too bad I had to look so hard for the good parts, but despite Capcom's smashing together of many game ideas to create what they think people want to play, I still found enough parts of RE6 to be reminiscent of the Resident Evils of yore.

9) God of War Origins Collection (Chains of Olympus & Ghost of Sparta)

GoW

I love GoW, but the Origins Collection is here for the same reason RE6 is: was it great, or did I just play a lot of junk this year? I played Chains of Olympus on the PSP years ago, but playing its HD version make me forget its system of origin; it plays and looks just as good as either God of War 1 or 2 on PS3. Ghost of Sparta was an all-new experience, and I was glad I finally got to play it 'cause the PSP version is nigh-impossible to find. It's arguably the most story-driven God of War game, and there's really nothing to say about it if you've played a God of War game before because Ghost of Sparta is just more of that plus a few new tricks. But that's not a bad thing, 'cause it's already refined and polished and doesn't need too much changing, and you have two great games in one box that I'm very glad I own.

8] DJ Hero 2

Dj Hero 2

When the first DJ Hero was announced in 2009 I couldn't have cared less, and the fact that it was getting a sequel the following year made little sense to me. Many stores bought what Activision was shovelling a couple of years ago and bought piles of music game bundles, many of which they are now stuck with. As sorry as I felt for the poor schmo who made that call years ago, I'd always wanted to try a DJ Hero game. While aimlessly wandering around a Zellers with a friend of mine some months back, we wandered into their electronics section and made our way to the poorly-lit back where many of the aforementioned bundles were stacked up, waiting to be sent off to die. On a whim I picked up a DJ Hero 2 bundle box, still sealed and going for less than a new disc release, feeling hopeful.

Long-winded back-story aside, DJ Hero 2 is quite a fun game, if a bit hard to get used to. I've found that the turntable works best if you're playing at a desk or table, but it works on your lap too; the different switches, knobs, buttons and spins felt close to second nature after the tutorial. The music is all well done; I admit I don't listen to this kind of music of my own volition, but even if I hadn't found a few familiar surprises all of the tunes seem to mash together well enough. The career progression is similar to Guitar Hero's "perform your way to the top," and I even managed to find a couple of people to play against online! The Guitar Hero / Rock Band fanaticism that used to define me is long past, but DJ Hero 2 re-awakened that part of me a little bit. But not as much as...

7) Rock Band Blitz

RB Blitz

I was big fan of the PSP's Rock Band Unplugged a few years ago (I'd go as far as to say it's one of the PSP's must-own games) and I was guessing Rock Band Blitz would play and control similarly. It turned out I was a bit off-target. Rock Band Blitz is a simple-yet-challenging-enough version of Rock Band that's played with a regular controller and nothing more, yet the social integration, leaderboards and challenges from other players, plus using your entire downloaded catalog with no problem make it a blast for a burned-out music game enthusiast. Whether it was to fulfill a challenge I accepted on Facebook, to see who sent me a Score War request or just to see how one of my favourite songs "translated" into RBB's gameplay, Rock Band Blitz was a game I kept going back to for more.

6) Crysis

Crysis

I warned last year that this game could find its way onto my 2012 list, and indeed it has. After replaying Crysis 2 early in the year and gaining a deeper appreciation for it, I finally cracked and bought Crysis 1 on PlayStation Network. It controls largely the same with a few gameplay tweaks taken away (after all, how fair is it to judge the first game after the second), but what was kept intact between the two and what Crysis 1 brought to its own table was remarkable.

I know this game is five years old on PC. I know that version's rep for being the most hardware-demanding game ever. I know people are increasingly lukewarm about Crysis as a series. But solid controls, an invisibility mechanic, jaw-dropping graphics (even after being ported and downgraded), set pieces like the liquid-like innards of an alien craft and snowy mountains and weapons and levels I wanted to play multiple times add up to nothing less than one of the better games I played in 2012. Kudos to you, Crysis.

5) Assassin's Creed III

AC3

Assassin's Creed III starts out by lulling you into a false sense of security before throwing you a massive curveball unlike anything I've felt since Heavy Rain. After settling in, for better or worse, AC III becomes an Assassin's Creed game. Despite the change in setting and refinements in gameplay, I've played this game before. However, I guess that speaks volumes to the team at Ubisoft that got it right so many years ago 'cause despite my grousing it still holds up very, very well. Massive cities to run around in and climb around on, and great big wilderness to explore in lieu of even more cities, some of the clever revisionist history that the Assassin's Creed series does so well and a combat system that had been obnoxious has been refined to a state of near-polish (even though it still has a couple of bumps). And the addition of era-appropriate concepts like naval navigation and combat actually work very well. Perhaps it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I found it enjoyable once I understood what I was actually in control of and how to do it well.

Without spoiling anything, the stories in both timelines fall on their faces at the end. I felt down particularly about Desmond's ending, but remembering what AC has gotten away with in the past I feel it's almost fitting. No less dumb and silly, but still fitting. That said, AC III's biggest problem is me. I love getting everything into everything in games like this, and having so many sidequests, collectibles, minigames and 100% Synchronization moments make it quite maddening at given points. Also, this game might be a bit too big. The cities are massive, the wilderness feels bigger than anything, and despite a horse whistle and upgraded fast-travel system it still feels staggeringly huge. I suppose this game would be perfect if I was 14 again and had no other games to looks forward to for another four months. As is, I feel that Assassin's Creed III lives up to what I was expecting of it. It is the totality of everything that came before it and feel it is worthy of being in my game collection.

4) Spec Ops: The Line

spec ops

I've heard a grumbling consensus that 2012 was an off year that was only saved by the last mad dash to the finish line. In ways that also describes Spec Ops: The Line to a T. Spec Ops had no right to be any good. It was a modern-gen reboot of a B-tier line of budget military games from the PS1 and had no one thinking anything about it. It does little to dissuade from this notion early on: your team of three is sent into a sandstorm-ravaged Dubai to save an American colonel and his men, and you fight men dressed differently that you for no other reason than that they shot at you first. But what sounded like a throwaway line early on of "what the hell are we doing here" evolves as the game goes on until you begin to comprehend the horror of what is happening around you and what you yourself are inflicting on men who have committed no offense other than that you want them dead. The story that the developers crafted turned The Line from a bargain bin also-ran into one of the deepest game stories I've ever played. In hindsight it seems fairly telegraphed, and maybe it is. The gameplay itself is fairly paint-by-numbers with some good set pieces and decent controls. But those story moments made me very uneasy and almost ill.

If you haven't played Spec Ops, avoid this next paragraph. When Captain Walker comes across what he thinks is an enemy camp, he has no qualms with burning everyone alive via a silly Call of Duty-esque top-down aerial attack, and then tells the one survivor that he brought this on himself. When Walker, and subsequently the player, realizes they've just murdered dozens of innocent people instead, Walker keeps repeating that Conrad, the colonel, is the one responsible, for reasons that make no sense to anyone but himself. And when Walker finally breaks at the end and realizes that Conrad has actually been dead before the game started, and everything Conrad says to Walker was in Walker's head, it was enough to make someone jaded enough like me to really sit up and gasp. Depending on your actions Walker can either kill himself (while thinking that Conrad is shooting him), be taken out of Dubai by a rescue team of Marines but with a terrible case of PTSD, open fire on and gun down said team and "take charge" of Dubai like Conrad before him, or open fire on his rescuers and be shot and slowly bleed to death. I saw all endings, and the message of "war is bad" gets lost somewhere in the preceding mind**ckery because you slowly realize that you were the bad guy all along. And you hate yourself for it.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game that needs to be played.

3) Final Fantasy XIII

FFXIII

I gave Final Fantasy XIII an "Honourable Mention" back in 2010 because I only very briefly played it and wanted to give it recognition for piquing my interest while also letting it stay on the pile so that I may play it for real someday. Well, in 2012 that day finally came.

After numerous false starts over the years I was finally able to break the walls that were holding me down in FFXIII. I finally understood its leveling and class system, how Eidolon fights worked, how to best construct my team for the enemies at hand, I finally fully understood the backdrop and back-story of the world and I could finally experience a JRPG without worrying that I was playing it "wrong." All of the "problems" I'd heard about, like forced linearity, a battle system that isn't turn-based and things like not enough towns weren't a problem 'cause I'd never really cared for those things in the first place. Over the course of numerous chapters, meeting new characters, watching flashbacks and piecing together the terrors that gripped the world of Cocoon, I came to realize that I was experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime game, which I'm sure some people would call me crazy for saying, but I probably just described their first Final Fantasy experience as well. I enjoyed watching all of the characters grow and mature (some more than others), I pushed my chair in during most of the cutscenes and subsequent playable vistas, I kept pushing forward in the game to find out twists that the game let drop while you played as a different group of characters and I kept humming numerous tunes to myself while I wasn't playing.

And yet, despite all that, I can't place it higher than this spot because and what I considered its biggest flaw, which really isn't even the game's fault: I couldn't stop playing it in spurts. I'd stop for weeks, break through the big boss or Eidolon fight that was holding me back, make a whole lot more progress and then get stuck again. But I don't sink over 40 hours of myself into a game and come out feeling nothing but wholly satisfied that I spent that time in that world. Final Fantasy XIII is an amazing game, one that deserves your affection if you'll allow it.

2) Lollipop Chainsaw

lollipop chainsaw

Going back to the idea that 2012 was mostly an off year, while I can't actually disagree, the fact that Lollipop Chainsaw was released back in June pokes a couple of holes in that theory for me personally.

Lollipop Chainsaw is far from the most perfect game in the world, but if you go into it with both eyes open it an amazing experience. I'll admit, if not for the Jessica Nigri cosplaying photos I'd seen plastered all over the internet I would've had no idea this game existed. But once I was able to suppress all urges about the company's hot spokes model and delve into the actual game, I found numerous silly things that somehow manage to make this game much more than the sum of its parts. It is one of the most fun, unique experiences I'd had in quite some time.

Despite all accusations of sexism leveled at the portrayal of main character Juliet Starling, she's a pure badass who doesn't take $h!t from anyone, and she's also just enough of an airhead without coming off as a total bimbo. I'd laugh out loud at a lot of lines spewed by Juliet, the straight-man answers from her boyfriend / sidekick / talking head Nick and the hundreds and hundreds of zombies Juliet was mowing down with increasingly intricate combos while wearing decreasingly visible outfits. I'd play certain levels numerous times to move up the worldwide and in-game leaderboards in order to unlock more achievements and in-game coins in order to buy more outfits, weapons and character upgrades. I'd practice with new weapons in order to psyche myself up to go through Ranking Mode, a one-life mode that is no small feat when the A.I. of the NPCs you have to protect has absolutely NO survival instinct. (Seriously, how hard is it to run away from the zombies as you're forced to run around a baseball diamond?) And I actually wanted this game's soundtrack, an eclectic mix of 1950's bubblegum pop, 1960's psychedelia, 1980's punk, '80's electronic music and all sorts of original game tunes inspired by the aforementioned eras. Seriously, you have no idea how fun it is to unleash stored energy from a bar in the corner of the screen and go around chopping heads off to the tune of Toni Basil's "Mickey" until you've actually done it.

Lollipop Chainsaw is far from perfect, but it's fun as all hell and should be in my list, don'cha think?

1) Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition

borderlands

Even as entire nights drained away from my life as I continued to play Borderlands, I couldn't quite believe I was having as much fun as I was having. I'd heard numerous opinions about Borderlands back in the day, with opinions ranging from everything from immense praise to derisive put-downs, and many things in-between. All I can say for certain is that it floated to the top of my game rental list and I decided to give it a shot, and I had almost zero expectations for it. This was right when both RE6 and Borderlands 2 were coming out, and I dropped one and very nearly bought the other 'cause I couldn't stop playing Borderlands.

I realized quickly that Borderlands doesn't have a whole lot of a story and that you had to look for beats and project yourself into the game's world to get the most out of it. I played a lot of the story missions by myself, but upon realizing I was a good chunk on my way to a Platinum trophy I finally hopped online and discovered how awesome the co-op can be. But it totally stands up on single-player, too: the quirky and somewhat lovable characters that populate the world, the enemies that take a little bit of strategy unless you're in someone else's game and you can just overpower them all, the abilities that each playable character can use and the simple joys of selling vendor trash and finding upgrade slots so that you can hold even more insane guns that do both massive damage and light enemies on fire, all while they yell about being on fire.

After not long I went out and bought my own copy, specifically the black-labelled GOTY edition, and even after smacking down the final boss I jumped right back into the extra content. It all integrated perfectly and organically into the crazy world of Pandora; Dr. Ned's experiments, Mad Moxxi's...madness, General Knox's desert prisons and Claptraps deciding they'd had enough. They all feel so fun to play and mess around in, and they solidify my choice to un-ironically and fittingly name Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition as my Game of the Year for 2012.

borderlands

The end-of-2012 blog post to end them all!

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Another year down, another disappearing act from the Internet, or so it seemed. I miss being a student and having a white collar job 'cause both of those meant that I would sit in front of a computer a lot more often and could dick around here a lot more. I remember the community of people that we had on here who all read each others' work and made us all better writers and gamers. As is? I'm writing this mostly so that I can share the link with my Twitter followers and on my Facebook Timeline; the old meeting the new, as it were. In fact, I can lay a lot of my non-blogging lifestyle on Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone; why sit down and write something lengthy when I can just take out my phone and leave a blurb online where people are sure to see it?

Anyway, sorry for starting so down. Happy New Year! 2012 was a weird and slow year in all aspects of my life, but I hate writing about most of those parts so let's focus on the games, shall we? I always hear about a person's "pile of shame" and what they need to do to tackle this pile of games that absolutely "needs" to be played, so that's a large part of what I did this year. Certain games that slipped by me the first time 'round got their chances, and some of them did not disappoint. In fact, in the list I still have formulating in my head, there is a very good chance that I will break my surprisingly-long-held pattern of awarding my personal GOTY to a game that was released that year.

2012 wasn't a transitional year in and of itself, but it was the beginning of the end of a long cycle and a lot of new patterns and trends came to light that I don't think will fade any time soon. (Wow, I could be talking about either my life or the video game industry with that one. But again, let's stick to games.) I've bought somewhat into the echo chamber that is the internet in believing that a lot of publishers and developers are in a holding pattern until the next cycle of home consoles come out, hence why uninteresting stuff is all we see. That last part's a matter of opinion, but the state of the matter is that the big AAA sequels and moneypots are the biggest releases, while a lot of mid-tier stuff is vanishing because there's little money left in taking risks.

That is such a major bummer for me, 'cause I've always dreamed, perhaps naively, that a console cycle would actually run for 10 years and every last single drop of power could be squeezed out of them. In my fantasy world in which money doesn't seem to matter and poeple never get bored with old stuff (because c'mon, right?), you wouldn't need to shoehorn multiplayer and co-op modes into what was already a solid horror shooter that maybe needed only a few tweaks at most (Dead Spaces 2 and 3 say hi, Dead Space 1!) because the publisher is deathly afraid of a bored gamer trading it in and someone else buying the same copy, therefore "robbing" them of "their" money.

In my gamer fantasy world, the game I buy is the game I get. I don't need to worry about patches, or whether I should buy the Season Pass, or worry about a one-time-use code that does nothing but turn the game I'm playing into the one I SHOULD have been playing all along. As is, way too much content doesn't come on the disc. I understand wanting to increase your game's sales, but treating a customer like a potential thief before he or she has even become a customer is just wrong because it's bad business. I remember EA starting this with "Project Ten Dollar" some time ago, but is didn't hit me as truly insidious until now, and I've struck back. I decided I simply won't buy a game if it has too much "neccesary" DLC.

Throughout this year, for example, I've heard numerous examples of how incomplete Mass Effect 3 feels without the add-ons. On a recent Giant Bombcast, for example, Brad had finally fished playing it, and had done so with From Ashes and Leviathan installed from the start. Apparently, these "extra" pieces of the game make Mass Effect 3's story make a whole lot more sense, to the point that they truly felt ripped out of the main game, and his experience with ME3 was completely different than the one all of the other guys had. Now, when I hear something like that, why would I really want to play that game? Why would I ever pop in any game from that fictional universe if I know that I will be treated like a moron who can't be told something vital because I didn't ante up?

Fortunately, not all games are like that. A tiny blessing in disguise that I've fully discovered this year is the "Game of the Year Edition" that some companies put out. Somewhere out there, at certain companies, someone has realized that both DLC and new game sales have tails on them, and there comes a point when throwing it all in the same package makes a ton of sense. Another "big" concern of mine is the ability to play all of my games years and years from now. If all of the extra content that ties a game together is supposed to be on a server that won't exist five or ten years from now, then why bother with ever paying anything for anything extra? Well, aside from taking real good care of your console and its hard drive, buying a GOTY edition with the extra content on the disc (that part is vital) makes great game the greatest game. Even if that's a bit of a steep hill to climb, Borderlands, Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption and Resident Evil 5 are all made so much better by the inclusion of their extra content right on the disc. A lesson that I doubt EA or Ubisoft will ever learn well enough to put into play.

However, even if they did I still have plenty of stuff to play. My pile of shame is an embarrassment of riches, one that requires a good amount of chipping away even without the upcoming gems in 2013 to add to it. If I didn't buy or rent a single game from here until next January 6th I'd be fine. I doubt I'd finish games I've yet to start like Final Fantasy XIII-2, Skyrim or Deus Ex: Human Revolution in only a week or two. There are games I started but never managed to make my way back to like Catherine, Duke Nukem Forever (I know, I know, shut up), Resident Evil 6 and Trine 2, and even way back with games like 3D Dot Game Heroes, LittleBigPlanet, Dead Nation and God of War III. The fact that Crysis 3 and Dead Space 3 hit next month is closer in my mind than it should be, and makes me forget that I've yet to try Far Cry 3, The Walking Dead or Dishonored.

In short, 2012 was great for video games. All of the "the sky is falling, video games are dead" talk is just that; talk. Personal top 10 of 2012 forthcoming.

T-Prime's Top 10 Games of 2011

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(The VG Press mirror)

Alright, here we go.

T-Prime's Top 10 for 2011

Catherine
10) Catherine

I make a promise to myself right now to finish this game very soon because it is so very much more than Boxxle with boobs. I had the ending spoiled for me accidentally by someone who didn't know I hadn't finished it so it's sitting on my shelf half-finished, but even without knowing any of the twists Catherine is still a game very much worth playing. The core puzzle gameplay is challenging even on the lowest difficulty, but much like Bayonetta last year its insanity just made me want to keep playing it even more. The story feels very much like an anime I feel I've seen but can't quite remember actually seeing, and iffy gender politics issues aside it feels incredibly fresh to play a game that is about on ongoing relationship and what thinking about the future of said relationship actually does to a person. Of course all characters fit into sterotypes: Vincent is a whiny, spineless manchild, Katherine acts more like she wants to be his mother than his wife, and Catherine is the ditzy blonde who may or may not have something lurking beneath the surface. As just a supernatural romance anime Catherine would've work; a viewer wouldn't feel connected to Vincent at all and just want to punch him every time he opens his mouth. However, by adding in a fiendish puzzle game and a moral choice system the player can steer Vincent to what they believe is the correct path and it becomes great because of that. I just wish I also didn't know that there are eight (8!!) potential endings because every moral choice feels scary to make, even if it's the one I know I'd make in real life, because then Vincent would cock the whole thing up in a following cutscene.

Crysis 2
9) Crysis 2

I've never been a PC gamer and have never really given a damn about Crytek and all of their tech tricks. I ended up playing Crysis 2 almost purely by accident when I asked to borrow it from a friend and he only gave me a few days to play it. Filled with the intent to finish it, I dove into Crysis 2 and, without truly meaning to, I let it suck me in. A mere ten minutes into the game, your player character "Alcatraz" has nearly been killed and is given the high-tech nanosuit that will keep him alive, let him fight on and also lets him turn invisible. The suit is given to you by a marine named "Prophet" who I have to assume was in Crysis 1 (which I've yet to play; look for it possibly showing up on my list next year). I spent the next ten minutes in the game slowly walking around the starting area, but not because I was admiring the jaw-dropping visuals. No, the visuals were so good that I completely forgot about them and instead got wrapped up in the fiction. A deadly virus has accompanied an alien invasion of New York City, and the "real" starting area after acquiring the suit is a warehouse made up of several rooms, each one filled to the brim with massive cages of what must be thousands, or maybe tens of thousands dead bodies, each a victim of the "Manhattan Virus." From there the game is a standard FPS with a few tricks up its sleeve, and while I've never been the biggest FPS fan Crysis 2 sets the stage so well and looks so gorgeous that I'd be utterly insane to not include it here this year.


AC
8) Assassin's Creed Brotherhood/Revelations

I'm lumping Brotherhood and Revelations together because they are essentially the same game with varying coats of paint. Whether Ezio is trying to make the Borgia family pay for their crimes in Rome or searching for lost clues Altair left behind in Constantinople, the two Assassin's Creed II sequels have been dripping with high production value, excellent and fun gameplay, amazing size, scope & breadth and more than a handful of sleepless nights. The reason I rank them so low is that they are the same damn game as Assassin's Creed II. Ok, in Brotherhood Ezio grows a beard, and in Revelations he gets a grey cloak and learns how to use bombs, but I've seen them before. Assassin's Creed II was such a joy to play, yet its two unnumbered sequels have grinded my enthusiasm fairly badly. I truly feel like that shouldn't be a problem, yet I also feel like it is AC's biggest problem: taken by themselves Brotherhood and Revelations are absolute hallmarks of excellent game design, the gameplay freedom is unbelievable, the characters are well-rounded and likeable and the size of either one of them is enough to last for some time, even if you never touch what I feel is a very fun and unorthodox mutiplayer. Yet much like I felt about Guitar Hero but its end, Assassin's Creed really needs to blow me away next time or it needs to pause.


inFamous 2
7) inFamous 2

inFamous 2 is a hard game to pin down. On one hand it does exactly what it's supposed to do: continue Cole McGrath's story of facing "The Beast" and do so with electric powers while battling to either save or destroy the entire world. It's everything it should be but saying it's a "by-the-numbers" is far too harsh. The addition of other characters with powers is a nice touch, as is the ability to combine their powers with Cole's depending on your moral path. Certain powers are changed, others are added, and unlike last time the good path gets the better powers. We also (finally) get an in-world explanation for why Cole can do what he does, and Cole and Zeke's relationship goes beyond the boundaries of the generic, wacky sitcom-like friendship that inFamous 1 made me think they have. I played through both the good and evil paths in quick succession, and the Infamous ending made me feel so icky and wrong that I immediately followed it up with reloading my good path and finished the game as a Hero again. Whichever path you take inFamous 2 ends Cole McGrath's story, and both endings felt also reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 3's ending: despite the horrible thing that Cole has to do, the game forces you to make him do and so that you will fully feel its weight. And inFamous 2 is weighty indeed.

Dead Space 2
6) Dead Space 2

I gave serious thought to giving Dead Space 2 the #1 spot this year. I didn't play the original Dead Space until 2009, so if I'd done awards in 2008 DS definitely would've been my GOTY that year. As it stands, Dead Space 2 was the perfect way to kick-start 2011. The first time you get to take control of Isaac Clarke you have to escape from a mental ward while Necromorphs are bursting out everywhere, and the "crazy man who was right all along" setup makes the story's progression satisfying. Giving Isaac a voice was a good idea on Visceral's part, as was making it obvious from the start that his mental state is still fragile.

Like with inFamous 2, saying Dead Space 2 is "by-the-numbers" is too much, but it did fulfill all my expectations, gave me plenty of jumps and a few surprise twists and I played through it three times (mostly for trophies) before finally putting it back on my shelf. In hindsight it did feel a little too much like an action game and not enough like a survival game at points, but the overall package was just so good, with so many changes made to DS1's formula ultimately made it a better game and one of my top games of the year.

BttF
5) Back to the Future: The Game

A massivedose of nostalgia is what caused to me shell out the 20 bucks for this five-chapter "season" last February, but the first Telltale adventure I've ever played surprised me as a fun (if simple to actually play) game. The gameply consists of little more than walking around faithful alternate Hill Valleys and using items at the right time, but my rose-colored nostalgia glasses have been glued to my head in this case. The voice acting is extremely well done and all the soundalikes (minus Christopher Lloyd, who returns as the elder Doc Brown) sound so good you have to already know they're other actors because upon hearing them you won't believe they're not Michael J. Fox, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson. The score uses all of the old Back to the Future music and sound cues, and the cues actually come in very handy as the "right answer" signals at various points. All episodes are fairly linear in that there is ultimately only one way to go, buy they are enough branches of dialogue and non-essential items that I wanted to play each episode a couple of times each just to hear and see everything, and then went to YouTube for the rest when I got restless. New characters created for the game blend seemlessly with established canon characters, and to top the whole thing off, the final episode ends (no spoilers) exactly as the first movie does: the DeLorean flies in to the camera and "Back in Time" by Huey Lewis and the News begins blaring. It felt so perfect.

Uncharted 3
4) Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

The first Uncharted was my GOTY a few years ago, and Uncharted 2 topped that game in pretty much every way. As much as I wanted to love it unequivocally, Uncharted 3 almost felt like a step back (or at least sideways) from Uncharted 2. It's still graphically dazzling, well-controlling and tells its story very well, but a lot of nitpicks got to me this time. For one, the in-game medals, unlockable costumes and avatars from UC 1 and 2, 2 especially, have gone missing from the single-player mode. Another is that shooting any gun felt slightly "off" until an "alternate aiming" system was patched in; I'm not sure what Naughty Dog did to the controls but they seem to be better, or maybe it's psychosomatic and I just think they're better. Something else that drives me batty is the way Nate moves around when you control him, very floppily and ragdoll-like, as if the developers racheted up some under-the-hood setting during debug and forgot to reset it when they went gold.

Nitpicking aside, though, Uncharted 3 meets the bar that its predecessors set by its end. The Rub' al Khali Desert in Yemen is the perfect cllimax for the final game of a trilogy, after a tropical Pacific island and the Himalaya Mountains, and even if you can't truly buy what happens once Nate hits the desert it looks so damn nice, and I was so desperate to escape that it didn't bother me too much. Nate's compatriots Sully, Chloe and (eventually) Elena return, and the addition of Charlie Cutter, the educated Shakespeare-quoting treasure hunter hiding behind a face like Jason Statham, was incredibly welcome. What puzzles there are aren't ever truly difficult, but rather just a little tricky; once you figure them out (despite their implausability) you're good to go. I also excuse that because I hate it when an obtuse puzzle gets in the way of the fun, and thankfully Uncharted 3 is nothing BUT fun.

Zelda
3) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I never read or listened to any preview coverage about SS and it was a better game because of it. Recently I've been hearing a lot of negativity about it that, while annoying and nitpicky, can't truly be overlooked when I realize that a good amount of it really did bug me just a little bit. However, that gets countered by the fact that I had to have someone else tell me that Skyward Sword has problems, 'cause when it did I just went with 'em and enjoyed it more. Does the world feel too small with only three major ground areas? No, because a condensed world makes me search out and learn every nook and cranny. Furthermore, Skyward Sword is also the most "Metroidvainy" Zelda game ever, with numerous items unlocking major portions of areas later on, and even dungeons need revisiting at times. Since I'd never owned a Wii until this game, I'm not sure what my saying that the motion controls work very well means, but they work very well and the 1:1 swordplay became delightful to learn and figure out as the game went on. And yes, the nostalgia factor was turned to high: Link's traditional green outfit took two hours to show up and it was the longest two hours in a Zelda game ever. Zelda's Lullaby, the Master Sword, the Triforce, the Temple of Time, the Hylian Shield, all of these were welcome sights and sounds but none of them felt like they'd been shoehorned in.

The new additions are interesting tweaks to the Zelda formula. The Stamina bar allows Link to run until it drains by holding down A, and it feels so right that Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess may forever be tainted for me. New items like the Beetle and the Whip seem to replace the Boomerang and Hookshot and are perfectly suited to the motion controls as well. There is so much more to both love and hate about Skyward Sword, but I'll keep my words brief and simply say that SS had a real shot to be my GOTY, and the fact that is didn't make it is no detriment to its quality and fun. Hater or not, you should play The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Portal 2
2) Portal 2

Portal 2 missed out on being my game of the year by the skin of its teeth. If I could make myself pull a shi++y cop-out like 2006 again I would, but when I boiled it down Portal 2 simply didn't come out on top. That's not to say it isn't full to the brim with total awesomeness that anyone wouldn't be honoured to put on their gaming shelf, though.

The early setting of a run-down facility is incredibly poignant even if you didn't play Portal 1 and recognize half the rooms in a decrepit form.

The addition of Wheatley, the would-be recipient of my non-existent Best New Character Award, and the return of Glados would make for a very humourous tandem even without the further additions of the broken turrents, Cave Johnson, Carolyn and the corrupt personality cores.

The new puzzles, with the addition of the Hard-Light Surfaces and gels, made for a pleasant tickling of the brain that never got frustrating. I remember growing very frustrated with the second half of Portal 1, but re-playing that game during the PSN downtime in April must've helped me get into a groove because I never grew exasperated with the puzzles, as puzzling as they were at times.

I won't go into too-spoilerific territory, but after the first third of the game abruptly sends you far below ground I couldn't help but get a very steampunk/"Bioshock"-esque vibe from all of it, and the juxtaposition of that entire abandoned facility with the pristine, white cleanliness of the "real" facility was perfectly jarring, and as an overall emotion it's stuck with me even as the solutions to the puzzles have faded from memory. The only "problem" someone can accuse Portal 2 of having is that is has almost zero replay value, which is the biggest reason it gets the #2 slot this year.

Arkham City
1) Batman: Arkham City

I almost feel like I owe the Batman games after Arkham Asylum nearly lost out to Uncharted a couple of years ago, but this time around Arkham City's open sandbox, more satisfying combat and more replayability give it the edge to nudge up to #1 on my list. I think the combat is the biggest factor. No, the fighting doesn't feel any different from Arkham Asylum, yet you can easily get lost fighting hordes of convicts for XP. Fighting with your fists, your gadgets and a few well-timed jumps while in a wide-open courtyard, an abandoned subway platform or any number of rooftops have a marvelous flow that just didn't feel possible in the asylum's cramped spaces two years prior. Even the rooms that were big enough had numerous Titan henchmen running around, and thankfully similar big enemies are kept to a minimum in Arkham City in favour of a bit more variety.

I remember feeling while playing AA's demo that Rocksteady had developed "the perfect Splinter Cell game," but AC's openness personally helps it emerge from that shadow into a league all its own. Yes, you could say that's it's just a sequel with a few minor changes and improvements over the first one, but I personally feel that those improvements were enough to make Batman: Arkham City my 2011 Game of the Year.

Joker

T-Prime's Top 10 Games of 2011: Prologue

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What game blog "would be complete without some sort of arbitrary, stupid awards show?" (Thanks, @JimSterling!) I played and finished more video games this year than ever before, and as a result for some games I pretty much just put a number next to them because they needed to be ranked from 10 to 1 (one self-imposed rule I've yet to break. Well, sort of.) This is an amazing crop of games, probably the absolute best I've ever played in a one-year span, and I need to remind my future self that the numbers that appear next to each game really aren't extremely reflective of how awesome each game is: we're talking the difference between #1 and #10 on Gamerankings.com. I mean, is the PS2 version of Resident Evil 4 really .02% better than the Gamecube version? Is Uncharted 2 .11% better than Metroid Prime? GTA IV .07% better than Soul Calibur? That's the razor-thin margin I'm talking about here.

Honourable mentions

For better or for worse, I never got around to even playing either God of War III or Final Fantasy XIII (last year's HMs) again, so they don't make an appearance this year. However, with FF XIII-2 coming at the end of January and a slight rumour that GoW IV could emerge this year, I may finally have an impetus to play one or both of them.

iOS
All of iOS gaming

I hope to give this subject a further personal in-depth look in another entry later on, but let me say for the time being that being able to download and carry dozens (and potentially hundreds, if my iPhone wasn't a mere 16 GB) of games in my pocket makes my head spin. For all of the POS "games" out there that are merely slapdash student projects or screenshots of real games with tinny music playing over them, there are truly innovative and fun games available out there. The no-button interface makes transferring and porting existing types of games difficult, but certain developers have risen to the challenge. Developers like Rovio Mobile, creators of...

Angry Birds
Angry Birds


I wanted to put it in my numbered list, but it just doesn't fit in with everything else I wanted to squeeze in. Technically, this game's two years old and its gameplay's extraordinarily shallow, but the charm shines through in spades enough for me to have six versions of it on my iPhone (regular, Seasons and Rio, plus their demo versions because I'm a sucker for Game Center achievements and leaderboards). Woohoohoohoohoo!

Alright, apparently GS has a 20,000 character limit on posts. Be right back.

Monthly (Yearly?) Blog: December 31, 2011

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Well, that was quite a year.

I think I figured it out: I used to blog constantly because I was / am a massive procrastinator, and without a massive amount of schoolwork to slog my way through I don't sit at my PC for hours on end with two word processors open. If my mind wandered during trying to explain how crazy Christopher Marlowe really was or what exactly happened at the end of George du Maurier's Trilby, I could always switch from Word to Notepad and bang out five hundred words on Manhunt 2's insidiousness or how much more insane Bayonetta felt in a Japanese demo, despite the English voices. But now it's a simple routine of work-hangout-home and I'm not that eager to upset that. As such, I've spent the last number of months doing something we should all be doing more often: playing video games.

My top 10 of 2011 is coming because I really like doing stuff like that, but it was a weird year because there wasn't really anything totally fresh and "OMG WOW" for me. There were plenty of great games and moments, but (as numerous sites have been observing in their own year-end countdowns) there were no games or ideas we'd truly never seen before, even in the fringe PC or mobile spaces. And mobile games totally throw my year into disarray because I'm still not quite sure how to classify them, 'cause for the most part they're teaspoon-deep and I play them for only slightly longer than it takes to drink a can of soda. A good iOS game goes for 99¢ but doesn't last much longer than an hour before the feeling of newness wears off and I'm left wondering how to arrange and classify my iPhone's icons. But I digress. iOS games will find their way onto my list this year because:

A) my PSP is (was?) full of softcore pr0n and is currently missing; when I find it and all of its incriminating data I'm sure I'll have to reset the date, and

B) my DS is charged for the first time all year so that I can play Chrono Trigger and Zelda: The Minish Cap over, instead of wasting $10 to buy CT on the App Store. I shouldn't buy it a third time and I want to replay Minish Cap now that I know it falls after Skyward Sword in the now-official timeline.

As yes, Skyward Sword. Around mid-November, on a whim I went to a new local games store that recently opened to ask about the Wii's features getting stripped out and how much a Wii costs, ostensibly to ask for one for Christmas. Lo and behold he had a secondhand one sitting on a shelf, all wrapped and pretty in plastic wrap and for sale at $79. I couldn't quite believe it; I'd been saying half-jokingly that I'd buy a Wii for Zelda but it would have to be really cheap, and to have that come to fruition was quite astonishing. Less than a week later I was playing the newest Zelda game and doing my best to enjoy it, trying to let go of the (relative) disappointment of The Minish Cap, the massive disappointment of Phantom Hourglass and the complete memory-blank of Twilight Princess. Perhaps it'll be my next review, but having only just finished it I really need to sift through my memory banks and fully digest it before that comes.

It was while I played Zelda that I totally neglected my PS3 (as well as my new Wii games and current rental). I really hope that forcing myself to play Zelda and not go so over-the-top nitpicky with it has further helped in my ongoing Trophy detox. Case in point, I decided that the next game I wanted to go through after Skyward Sword was Uncharted 3, which I had put down right before I bough the Wii because I wasn't having fun. The controls and aiming felt really off, the story seemed to meander all over the place and (here's the facepalm) the trophies were annoying. After a nice month-long cleansing, I started over in Uncharted 3 and, in two very satisfying sessions, got all the way back to where I'd previously been. Whether it was the "alternate aiming" that was patched in, my desire to play through for my GOTY thoughts or just because I'm playing at as a game into and of itself, I'm enjoying myself. LIKE I SHOULD. I'm playing Uncharted 3 primarily to see what happens next and to see that next great setpiece, not so I can increase my PSN Level % ever so slightly. That's still fun, I'm still checking in the menu to sit if I'm close to 30 kills with a number of weapons, but it's more and more incidental now.

Going back to my previous point that "there were no games or ideas we'd truly never seen before" this year, that didn't bother me so much because instead we got old and previous ideas that were incredibly re-thought and refined. Dead Space 2, Batman Arkham City, Portal 2 and inFamous 2 are all just as good if not vastly superior to their predecessors. Sure, DS2 was more action-focused, Portal 2 was more story-focused and Arkham City's sandbox was almost the antithesis to Arkham Asylum's claustrophobic surroundings, but being a "sequel" is never a bad thing and all of those games simply wowed me, even if they were close to being the same wows I uttered while playing the previous games.

That being said, there was plenty of stupid crap and just very "meh" stuff this year. The one that comes to me right away is Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3 and how little of a game is actually there. There are some great moments in MW3, but more than ever all you have to do is follow the hallways. This wouldn't be so horrible in other games but so little of what you, the character does in that world actually depends on you, the player. Rock, Paper Shotgun actually called it an "un-game" because

"...it is an un-game in which a closed door means you must stand still. (This is fairly early on in the game. I couldn't believe it when I saw it: I'd actually gone too fast for the game and it was making me wait. I just couldn't believe that the radar icon wasn't the door in front of me, but my squad commander fifty steps behind me.) An un-game in which it is not possible to head down the only available route until the rest of your squad has been through that tunnel first. It is a series of visible and invisible walls, that you incessantly bang your nose against, because you haven't stood still and watched."

Say what you will, but a well-designed or well-meaning game wouldn't and shouldn't do that. Games like the Prince of Persia trilogy, which I played over a course of weeks in the late summer. Renting the HD collection almost goes against my new-found priorities when it comes to game enjoymentvs. trophies because I rented it solely for at least one easy Platinum and decided to go for all three when I realized that booting the disc up made all three games show up on my list, and I wasn't going to have two big fat "0%" sitting there. However, I ended up finding that I truly liked those games, strange aesthetic choices aside. I played them all in succession with no full-on breathing room between them and have giant rose-coloured glasses on right now. Maybe it's like Yahtzee once said: "between them, the three Sands of Time games have the ingredients of probably the best game ever." I don't agree with the "ever" part, but taken as a whole the Prince of Persia Sands of Time Trilogy HD Collection©™® ranks right up there in the annals of gaming.

I have a number of things I'd like to keep going on about, but I'm gonna shut up for now and go back to Uncharted. (Or maybe go to bed, it's late!) But if there are people still with me after this rambling, let me just say thanks. Thanks for keeping me as a tracked user and noticing that I've written something new. Thanks for having the patience and curiosity to make it to the end. Thanks for giving a damn about anything I have to say despite a very long absence. I'll be back to writing and always stalking your GS profiles in 2012.

(P.S. Speaking of stalking, if anyone's interested - )

Dear Internet: I'm Alive.

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Wow. It's been almost a year since I "properly" blogged. A review and my year-end list don't quite compare to my preferred method of rambling, and because I've missed this so much, here we go on some subjects from the last few months on which I can throw some words out. Without further ado:

PSN outage of 2011: This has been talked about to death, but in (finally) throwing in my two cents I'd like to remind my future self that I barely played any games at all during the outage.

I had the "bad" luck to rent Assassin's Creed Brotherhood in late March and played it here and there: I would play it for hours on one night and then not touch it for days (more than 2 weeks at one point, apparently). It's a fun game but I found it a bit too similar to AC 2, which in hindsight isn't a surprise given that Ubisoft dropped any numbering scheme. I would do things obsessively like the courtesan side missions and massive amounts of city renovations, but once I tasted the multiplayer I was wholly absorbed. The problem was that I was playing it in April and I'm certain I was going up against players who'd been playing since November. Not a new problem, I know, but one I tend to know little about since I'm not a big FPS or sports games player. Out-NPC-ing another player is great fun, and after a little while I was able to pick up on a few subtle hints as to whether a character was a human or the AI (even if it was the moment immediately prior to my getting killed by said human player). However, mere days had gone by when I couldn't sign into PSN. This had happened before: login issues were usually resolved in a matter of hours, maybe a day. Well, as we all know, six days later Sony acknowledged the problem and the debacle began. Couple the PSN outage with the apathy towards potential multiplayer grinding and I found that I...

Stopped caring so much about trophies: Some of ACB's online trophies are insane, such as "Take the lead 10 seconds before the end of a session and go on to win," "Score 750 points or more on a single kill," "Get all the Co-op bonuses in 1 session" and "During Open Conflict, kill your target and escape." Not impossible, but the amount of grinding and / or boosting required phased me. (Let's not even mention stuff like finding all the damn Borgia flags or the Animus Virtual Training Program.) Thing is, had PSN not gone down I would've tried boosting and would've gone completely nuts. With PSN gone, I had no impetus to play anything, preferring to play games on my iPhone (more on that later) or watch my TV backlog. Being unable to sync any of my game progress with an online profile got to me, but in hindsight I'm kinda glad I had a detox. Here's why:

Bad platinum

This was the game that broke the proverbial camel's back for me. I rented Up (a.k.a. Disney Pixar's UP: The Video Game), Tomb Raider Underworld and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs all within a week of each other in January and managed to get three new Platinum trophies within the space of less than a month, but by the end I felt like I had just wasted an entire month. "What have I accomplished?" I though to myself. Yes, that little number on my account screen had climbed higher, but I could've played games I truly gave a damn about: it took seeing Video Games Live at the end of April to finally make me pick up and start re-playing Symphony of the Night, but I was too busy playing two competent-but-still-sh!++y-feeling kids' games to play "better stuff!"

In all fairness, all three of the above are well put-together games that were good for killing some time. Meatballs really chafes me if only because it has a rep online for being "THE" trophy whoring game, and Up isn't far behind it, but all three (and Tomb Raider especially) weren't bad to play in and of themselves. Still, was I ever glad when Dead Space 2 arrived in the mail!

I still like hunting trophies, but I won't go completely nuts. Take ACB again: once I decided to send it back in favour of finally playing Portal 2, I sought out all of the feathers, killed a guard with a broom, finished Subject 16's puzzles (with a video walkthrough of course, those puzzles are bat$h!t insane), completed 10 guild challenges and jumped with the parachute off the top of Castel Sant'Angelo for a total of 78% complete (66% after the DLC is factored into the number). Overall I had fun with Brotherhood and completed a few silly trophies, just the way it should be.

And for the record, I picked Dead Nation and LittleBigPlanet on PS3, along with LittleBigPlanet (again) and Killzone Liberation on PSP. Wish they'd offered FFIX or RE2, but Sony cost Square and Capcom enough during the downtime, I suppose.

iPhone gaming: For my 26th birthday in April I received my very first smartphone. My mom couldn't wait to give me my new iPhone 4 that morning, so much so that she'd only bought it earlier that morning so as not to give it to me early. After getting a little accustomed to the touch screen after years of buttons and being reassured that my previous phone number had been transferred over (another reason she only bought it right before giving it to me), my thoughts turned to iTunes and the App Store. Ever since John Davison did his "iPhone Game of the Week" on 1UP Yours (or was it Listen Up? I can't remember) I've half-listened to people on podcasts talk about iPhone gaming, but much like when I got a PS3 2 1/2 years into ITS life, I had a massive amount to sort through when it came to he iPhone marketplace. Thank goodness for demos and "free" and "lite" versions of games!

I had to start with Tetris, but I have to say that I'm disappointed with the iPhone version if only that it's completely touch-based. The Game Boy version will always be the top version in my mind, and the several mobile versions have always gotten the job done, but the imprecision of the touch controls paired with the fact that you often can;t see the pieces behind your fingers make iPhone Tetris just another pretender to the Game Boy game.

Angry Birds

I've also fallen hard into the Angry Birds camp. AB seems like such an obvious concept, but it's done with such charm, humour and legitimate (if simple) gameplay challenge that I get such a kick just out of hearing the theme song or hearing the birds celebrate when I've cleared one of the many, many, MANY levels. To me, smiling at/humming a game's theme is a sure sign that the game is really good.

Most other games have been hit or miss. I downloaded a few EA games during their Easter sale like Dead Space, NBA Jam and Mirror's Edge, but they all have the Tetris problem of your fingers getting in the way. It annoys me in NBA Jam so much that I don't even currently have it on my phone. Mirror's Edge, beautiful music intact, has been converted to a side-scroller and somewhat works, while Dead Space looks really pretty but lacks finesse in a major way; if you get swarmed by enemies, good luck figuring out what the hell is happening on your screen and how to fend them off. Rock Band iOS and Rock Band Reloaded are both all right, with RBR actually having vocals support, and mobile game staples such as chess and sudoku work well if you can find the right app. I also highly recommend Cut the Rope, Gravity Guy, Fruit Ninja, Contract Killer and Robo Sockets, the latter being a very good puzzle game I found while I was searching for free games that have Game Center support (ah, me and my need for achievements). Sadly, it's now being sold for 99 cents, but even then you should give the free version a shot.

Recent games: Dead Space 2 was pretty awesome. Both it and Infamous 2 took the cores of the first games and simply polished and added to them, and while the end results were games that some people felt were "too similar" to their predecessors, bite me! Calling it [Insert Game Name Here] with a 2 on the end usually means that the games will be largely the same!

Anyway, I played through Dead Space 2 twice but I highly doubt I'll get the Platinum anytime soon, since Hard Core mode seems like too much of a timesink for me and I don't have the patience to re-play hours of a game because of one misplaced bullet. I finished both Infamous 2 and Portal 2 twice and got both Platinums, with all three games in high contention for my personal GOTY. Granted, the year is only half over, but if I can send a game back to GameAccess without finishing it (3D Dot Game Heroes, LBP) or have any level of buyer's remorse (Fallout 3, NHL 11, GoW III) then I know it isn't particularly interesting to me. And that's coming from a non-FPS player who's finished every Call of Duty game.

Alright, back to Black Ops. Until next time, Internet!

T-Prime's Top 10 Games of 2010

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I'd need several more hands in order to count on my fingers the games I should have played in 2010 that I didn't get around to. However, in my eternal struggle to remember why I seem to remember liking games so much more when I was a kid, I realized that I played games to death much more often so if it takes me days and weeks on near-nonstop playing to really get at the guts of a game, then that's what I'll do.

As a result, much as past years, I have games not of 2010 on my list.

Honourable Mentions

Much like I did with inFamous a the end of 2009, I didn't play enough of these games in 2010 to form a solid opinion on them. However, the glances I got during the year were enough to call attention to them as quality games, plus they remain eligible for my personal, numbered 2011 list.

FFXIII
Final Fantasy XIII

I only played FF XIII for about 7 hours, and despite the frustration I remember feeling when fighting Odin, I want to go back. I've never been an RPG player, so I really have no complaints aside from the difficult-to-comprehend cIass system: certain strengths from one party member can compliment others, but in certain fights you have to do something other than attack?

I've never finished a Final Fantasy game. I'll be doing all I can to cross that off my list in 2011.

GoW3
God of War III

By the time I got to GoW3, I was "God-of-Warred out" after playing through the GoW Collection early last year. The first two games, played more than once each for the Trophies, were more than enough for me. When I finally got around to number 3 I found I didn't care, but I hope that itch comes back to me soon.

.

T-Prime's Top 10 for 2010

MGS PO
10. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

That's right, not 2010's Peace Walker, but 2006's Portable Ops finds itself on my list. Despite initial reservations, I actually found myself immensely enjoying the time I spent sitting and/or lying around playing this game. Having a mission hub and shorter missions definitely makes MGS work on a handheld. The weird-yet-workable prisoner collection system works because, despite headaches, stunning and capturing enemy soldiers and scientists to work with Snake's team is fun in an odd, Pokémon-like way. Complete that with entertaining Cold War intrigue and it almost makes up for the atrocious camera, aiming system and digital movement. The fully-voiced, graphic-novel styIed cutscenes are pretty awesome too.

HeartGold
9. Pokémon HeartGold

I love Pokémon and likely always will, but despite playing the heck out of HG and the fact that Pokémon Diamond was my GOTY in 2007, I must face the fact that it's constantly the same game over and over. HeartGold (and SouldSilver, I suppose) is a very solid and entertaining game that WILL need the shake-up that is purportedly going to hit with Pokémon Black and White in 2011.

DR2
8. Dead Rising 2

Slicing zombies with swords and sledgehammers, playing hero by saving innocent survivors from crazy psychopaths, using a motorbike to run of zombies by the dozen and watching female reporters in tight skirts bend over just far enough? This game has everything!

To be fair, I found that Dead Rising 2 can get old very quickly unless you find yourself able to project onto Chuck Greene. I couldn't care less if his daughter dies or if those survivors out in Fortune City need help, but if you think of it as "MY daughter needs Zombrex every 24 hours," "that lady with the busted leg needs MY help" and "I'M gonna get that sonofabi+ch for hanging innocent people" you'll have one hell of a time.

Mirror's Edge
7. Mirror's Edge

Months later, I'm still pleasantly surprised at Mirror's Edge's quality. Learning how to best control Faith and how to deal with the frustration of missing jumps was an exercise in quiet seething, but executing a well-timed double wall jump after running through a reservoir and jumping down a city maintenance shaft while a subway train barrels down on you to escape from the thickly-armoured mercenaries that really, really want the backpack that Faith is carrying is a one-in-a-million experience.

Brutal Legend
6. Brutal Legend

Brutal Legend is a weird game. I love the sandbox and exploration parts. I love the scenery and the creepy atmosphere of the darker parts of the world. I love the characters, the genuinely funny well-thought-out dialogue, the story and the soundtrack. The strategy parts are not the easiest on higher difficulties, but they make up a relatively small portion of the game. And yet I'm still not sure how I truly feel about Brutal Legend. All I know for sure is that it belongs on my list.

RB3
5. Rock Band 3

I love playing plastic guitar. I also love plastic bass and drums and slightly more real vocals and keyboards. Anyone who knows me knows I love music games. The only big complaint I have about RB3 is that it's still too much like two-year-old Rock Band 2 aesthetically, and there are always a few nitpicks, like being unable to assign specific avatars to specific instruments, but those are only minor when you stop and consider that Rock Band 3 is probably the ultimate music game. You did it, Harmonix. It's done. It's finished. You can rest now.

Bayonetta
4. Bayonetta

To say Bayonetta is like God of War is to say like Splinter Cell is like Metal Gear Solid: I can see where you're coming from, but you're wrong. I've never played a Devil May Cry game, which is the series to which you SHOULD compare Bayonetta, so aside from a few screenshots I knew nothing about Bayonetta going in. My habit of renting games seems to have shortchanged Bayonetta, I game I bought due to its demo, because every time I would get into a groove with Bayonetta another rental would appear in my mailbox and I'd shelve Bayonetta for another few weeks. It seemed like I could never come to like it.

However, much like Mirror's Edge, I finally hit some sort of Bayonetta singularity around the time I had to ride a motorcycle down a collapsing highway bridge in order to reach a plane to take me to the city to which I was headed, only to be stopped by a giant sea demon that I was forced to surf around while using my newly-unlocked tripleshot attack and using another newly-unlocked item that avoids taking damage if I push the left-thumbstick towards the attacking monster. That was before I had to ride a missile across a massive body of water into the city center while dodging angels, which is followed shortly thereafter of using an anti-gravity power to run up an elevator shaft and then ride another motorbike across a crumbling clock tower in the middle of an empty space.

The story is mind-bending, the set pieces are beautiful, the combat is annoying yet very fun and satisfying to learn, the characters have a surprising amount of depth considering Bayonetta's shameless first impression, and the action is so over the top that you cannot help but love all of it even all you constantly yell "What the hell was that?" at your TV every time Bayonetta uses a new torture attack on some poor angel.

Infamous
3. inFamous

After giving it an honourable mention last year, inFamous finally blew me away this past summer. The city is massive yet somehow seems smaller after acquiring all the fast-travel powers. Using Cole's electric powers never gets old regardless of the morality path you choose, from using little balls of electricity as grenades as a Hero to zapping red arc-lightning as Infamous. The story isn't good or bad; it borders serious and ridiculous well enough that you just want to find out what happens next. Doing a wide assortment of side mission types for civilians is great fun, and depending on your morality you can do things like defend a police station from enemies in suits of trash, or attack that very same police station by summoning lightning from the sky. I highly look forward to inFamous 2 in 2011.

ACII
2. Assassin's Creed II

I never played AC1 and AC: Brotherhood is on my "should've played in '10" list, but Assassin's Creed II's world sucked me in so completely that I almost ruined my plasma TV screen. Using the narrative mechanic of "genetic flashbacks" is as good a way as any to ensure that AC as a series can go to any number of historical locales, but playing as 15th-century Italian Ezio Auditore da Firenze was quite a sight to see. From a humble start as a street fighter for pocket money to breaking into the Vatican to attack the crooked Pope and every second in between, I wanted nothing more than to keep playing Assassin's Creed II. Chasing bad guys across rooftops, swimming under bridges to escape detection, hiring prostitutes in order to better blend into the crowds, perfectly parrying a sword attack and killing three men, and climbing to highest point in the world, surveying it in all its marvel and jumping straight down, unharmed, into a bale of hay are just a few pennies in the hundred-dollar bill that is Assassin's Creed II.

Madison
1. Heavy Rain

A rule of thumb for me is that the longer you want to play a game without putting it down, the better it is. When I finally got my hands on Heavy Rain, I decided to throw it in for an hour or two and let the story unfold in front of me. I started playing just after midnight on a Saturday night, and by 8:30 AM on Sunday morning I had finished it. I never stopped playing Heavy Rain until I beat it. I never put it down despite controls that remind me of Resident Evil 1 and a few annoying QTEs that made me restart chapters when I got a result I couldn't have lived with a few hours later. The idea of "interactive drama" sound preposterous to someone who just wants a good game, but to "play" Heavy Rain is to "experience" Heavy Rain. As a film or TV miniseries Heavy Rain may not have worked: a good murder mystery and a race against time to find another potential victim has been done numerous times on celluloid, but in the medium of "video games" it truly works like nothing else before it, and Heavy Rain shines above all other possibilities as my personal Game of the Year for 2010.

Jayden

Review - Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock

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Guitar Hero needs no introduction. If you've honestly missed the music/rhythm game fad of the last few years, Warriors of Rock will knock your socks off, but for almost everyone else it is not going to set the world on fire. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is informally known as "Guitar Hero 6/VI", and it really feels like it this time. As of writing I've poured at least 19 or 20 hours on WoR due to my extreme love of the genre and my love of trophies, and I don't know if what I just did was any less of a waste of time as just playing Guitar Hero 5 for another 15 hours. GH5 was personally a massive step forward after GH World Tour, but Warriors of Rock feels far too much like a re-skinned and patched GH5 than anything worthy of a "6" in the title, which may be one of the reasons Activision took the number off of the game. Dare I say, but at least on an annual basis it may finally be time to put GH to bed.

It has gotten to the point where even the slightest improvements and changes wow me, and taking a step back I realize I shouldn't see them as anything more than new, little blades of grass sticking out of a fairly old Chia Pet. The 20 hours I've played, for example, is nothing compared to the X hours I've played of this, Guitar Hero 5 and Band Hero, all neatly combined in the Rock Record menu as my "Lifetime" stats, which are presumably tracked via game saves, the GH Community servers and my PSN ID. Seeing that I've logged so much time is cool, but to what use have I really put so much time? The answer is not one I like.

Warriors of Rock has replaced the old "Career" mode with what they call "Quest" mode, which is little more than a career mode which far too much misplaced narration. I admit to falling for the trick of feeling a bit too attached to my in-game characters in previous games, who were not much more than embodiments of music genres and tropes: Axel Steel was the headbanger, Judy Nails was the rocker chick, Johnny Napalm was the punk, Clive Winston was classic rock, and so on. However, they were never more than mere extensions of the player with no personality of their own, just shells to look at and dance to onscreen. The developers seem to have grabbed the wrong end of the wrong stick in thinking that people actually wanted these "characters" to take on their own journey, and dumping the old idea of a "rags-to-riches" story in favour of something that sounds like it belongs in a bad Syfy movie probably would've sounded better as a directly sequel to Guitar Hero III. Animated cutscenes depict the "Demigod of Rock" battling "The Beast" and losing centuries ago, and now in this age only the avatars we've come to know can save them with the "power of their rock." Storywise, it does sound like where Guitar Hero III was going with their use of animation to battle Lou the Devil for your very souls, but Activision stepped on their own tail in this regard with the story of Smash Hits, in which your band of previous game characters must play an all-star tour to free the God of Rock from Lou's grasp. It's a bit silly to see exactly how playing songs can "UNLEASH MY INNER ROCK GOD" or any such nonsense in a cutscene, but the gameplay is where it gets interesting.

GH6 - Pandora

Warriors of Rock has two main single-player modes, Quest and Quickplay+. More on Quickplay+ later, but it is essentially the "real" Guitar Hero, with regular Star Power and earnable Stars. In Quest mode, the player collects "Power Stars" to level up and unlock more areas. These aren't much different from regular career progression; earn enough of them and the characters "power" unlocks. The powers are essentially cheats that allow for some crazy abilities while playing Quest mode. Each ability has two levels, one of which is available in Quickplay+ from the start and the second which is available once your beat the corresponding Quest chapter. For example, one ability has Star Power tripling the player's score instead of doubling it, and the upgraded power ups it to six times. Another allows for the player's multiplyer to increase to x6 from the regular x4, and still another allows the player to miss a note without breaking their note streak and score multiplyer. Once all 8 of these powers are unlocked in Quest mode, all songs in Quest can be played with all powers combined, allowing for a maximum of 40 Power Stars per song. However, aside from the Achievements/Trophies awarded for accomplishing this, scoring as many stars as possible doesn't give the player anything. And upon reflection, I feel cheated that I went through it all, but I have no one to blame but myself.

The song selection in any music game has always been hit or miss, but I'm not kidding when I say that Warriors of Rock has the worst miss to hit ratio in any main GH game. One big reason I've always liked music games is because they introduce me to new songs or re-introduce me to long-forgotten cIassics, but there were also times after I went back to collect Power Stars that I simply dreaded playing through entire chapters because they contained no fun songs. The claim that WoR contains 93 songs may sound good to a marketer, but what it really means is that this game's setlist is padded like a White Room in an asylum. There are no chapters that have what I consider to be all good songs, and a couple that only contain one I'd be willing to pay for or listen to more than once. In fact, I could easily cut this game down to Guitar Hero I's number of forty-seven songs and have what I'd consider a superior game because all of the miscellaneous junk would be gone, and even then forty-seven might be stretching it. Around the seventh chapter, in fact, I came to realize I wasn't even listening to half the songs I was playing. Rather, I was just "grinding" them, selecting them and going into a trance with one eye on the notes and the other on my score and the song's progression bar, which is a welcome feature on the main screen this year but comes far too late into Guitar Hero's life. That's not to say all the songs are junk, though. 47 out of 93 is still about half a good game, and those 47 are fairly awesome. It's just unfortunate the the other half is comprised of bad songs and songs that Guitar Hero deemed worthy of being on the disc, while in Rock Band they'd be forced to come in on the Rock Band Network. The way a Guitar Hero game is usually structured is (paraphrased from Zero Punctuation):

1) Start with a few easy, well-known cIassics and/or catchy tunes to soften the player up.
2) Throw in some completely out-of-place songs mixed with harder cIassics and lesser-known stuff while we're caught off-guard.
3) To quote Yahtzee Croshaw exacly: "Drop a few heavy cIassics on us for the big finish that will strip the flesh from our backs while we cry for more, because we're b*tches."

Yahtzee was referring to GH World Tour in that quote, and subsequently complained that Guitar Hero 5 never gets as far as the third step, but rather never stops Step 2. However, while I don't disagree with Yahtzee's assessment, even GH5's last few songs were amazing, show-ending pieces compared to Warriors of Rock's final song selections. The structure of Quest mode means that rather than just play songs in ascending order of difficulty, they're all grouped into different genres for their associated characters. Early on, punk rocker Johnny Napalm gets stuff like the Ramones, The Runaways, Twisted Sister and Bad Brains. Newcomer Echo Tesla gets alternative with Linkin Park, Muse and Flyleaf, cIassic rocker Austin Tejas gets the best stuff like Blue Öyster Cult, Neil Young and Dire Straits, and so on. The addition of a chapter and voice-over narration based on Rush's 21-minute epic "2112" seems like a weird outlier in terms of music selection, but it at least makes the song tolerable when broken into seven parts. The second half makes much less sense in terms of musical cohesion, with all pretense of characters representing genres thrown out the window in favour of more of Yahtzee's Step 2. The final is typical of the quest's second half: the character chapter (Axel) contains hits like a very good live recording of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard and "(You Can Still) Rock in America" by Night Ranger, along with the previously personally unknown "Jet City Woman" by Queensrÿche. However, I had never heard the remaining six sings before, and the only reason I thought "Indians" by Anthrax is tolerable is because it constantly plays in the menus, and I'd heard it enough by the time I'd finally arrived at it in the setlist. "Bat Country" by Avenged Sevenfold isn't a bad song either, but it's no Free Bird, The Devil Went Down to Georgia or even The Spirit of Radio.

Actually, those are unfair comparisons because Axel's chapter is only the last before the silly "battle with the Scourge of Rock." The finally pre-credits setlist is comprised of three Megadeth songs: Holy Wars...the Punishment Due, This Day We Fight! and Sudden Death, the latter which was apparently written specifically for Warriors of Rock and is obvious from its lyrics. For the first song you choose 4 of the 8 available Warrior Powers and the other four are used during the second one. Beat both songs and you awaken the Demigod of Rock, who then beats the Beast while you play Sudden Death over the fight. And then the game just ends, and there isn't even a song to play over the credits, ending a tradition that went back to playing "Through the Fire and Flames" on top of a tall spire at the end of GHIII. Well, to be fair there are a few songs unlocked post-credits, but the only good one is arguably "Fury of the Storm", and while I like DragonForce, all the better that a song of theirs not be required to finish the main story. The John5 and Steve Vai tracks are listenable, but if "Black Widow of La Porte" wasn't a song I needed to beat on Expert for a silver trophy I wouldn't care if I never heard it again.

GH6

All of this ranting about Quest mode almost made me forget about my preferred mode: Quickplay+. I exclusively played Quickplay+ mode for days after acquiring WoR because it is just more fun, but it's biggest flaw is that it's just too much like Guitar Hero 5 all over again. My favourite addition to Guitar Hero 5's career mode were the numerous song challenges: get a 500-note streak on bass in one song, sing perfectly for 50 phrases in another, score 1,000,000 points as a band in yet another. All challenges had three tiers (gold, platinum and diamond), and while you could only play them in career and only one type could be played in any one song, those tiers are back and now apply to every song in Warriors of Rock. All previous compatible DLC, plus all available exports from World Tour, Metallica, Smash Hits, 5 and Band Hero have challenges, and while I'm not exactly sure how the cutoffs for the tiers are determined they are still extraordinarily fun. All DLC challenges are structured the same, but the on-disc songs get some extra types, such as hitting red notes on drums, singing spoken notes and hitting a certain number of hammer-ons and pull-offs. All challenges give an extra one to three stars per song in Quickplay+, so it becomes possible to score 42 stars on a single song through numerous playthroughs (36 for challenges, 6 for a perfect full combo).

As I alluded to before, you can also select up to two Warrior Powers to use in QP+ songs under the "Power Challenge" option, and depending on the powers selected you can score an additional 10 to 20 Stars in one song. The game tracks scores made by people on your Friends List to compete against in any song, but beyond friendly competition there isn't much more. This isn't really a complaint, but one of the trophies in WoR is "Collect 2000 Stars in Quickplay+," and once I passed 1300 stars (having already gotten the trophies for 100, 500 and 1000 stars) I realized I wasn't having fun anymore. My song library is comprised mainly of exported songs from previous games, along with a few paid and all of the free DLC songs available, and scrolling through so many songs made me realize that most of them stopped being fun some time ago. I still love the songs that I love, but unlike GH5 there's no trophy for playing 300 songs in QP, in which I could conceivably play the same 10 songs thirty times each. I actually found myself, at several points, playing a song on guitar for 14 stars, then switching to bass for another 6, THEN to Power Challenge for another 14 or 15, all the while convinced I was having fun, but it isn't nearly as fun as I used to think it was.

Granted, playing a game by yourself gets old regardless of its quality, which is why I'm glad that all the polished multiplayer modes from Guitar Hero 5 have come back in WoR. I admit to only trying them last year because of the associated trophies, but they're all still fun this year (and can all be played locally offline, as well). However, again, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness: they're exactly the same as last year's. Crazy modes like Elimination, Do or Die and Perfectionist are still fun, but I didn't need to buy a new game for them. I don't want to completely sell them short, though: grabbing some people locally or online and scrolling through all the songs you know is immensely fun in small doses. I just don't need the big doses that I used to be used to anymore.

In the end Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock's best redeeming quality is that it introduced me to more music. The formula is still fun in bursts, but the available number of real rocking, cIassic songs has shrunk considerably due to the thousands now available in both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, so it makes less sense than ever to put out an entirely new disc every year. If Activision released another disc next year with only 35 or 40 songs, but for only $20 or $25, I'd probably play it, but the cycle of big, mainline Guitar Hero games should end here. Don't worry, music games, I still love you. I still have my three fake guitars, two microphones and Rock Band 1 drum kit ready and able to take you on, but I'm weary of you. Take some time off and try to really remember why people truly used to love you. They'll be willing to take you in again, but only if you stop forcing it, and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock sadly feels too much like GH trying to force something that doesn't need to be.

Final score: 5.0 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

The Trophy Hunter's Resolve

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The best part about Trophies and Achievements is that they allow a person to get their money's worth out of a game. If you can play a game for hours on end and be legitimately surprised at what time it is when you finally look up at the clock, then you know you're playing a very good game, and if little rewards push you towards that experience, then I really see nothing wrong with them. Anyway, time for an update on last time's self-indulgence:

Heavy Rain (40%; up from 35%)
-I decided to go back and get some one-off chapter trophies, and soon I'm going to play through the entire game again. My experience with Heavy Rain was great, but I need to stop romanticising it in my head and go back and dig my heels into it to really see how great or horrible it is.

God of War II (82%; no change)
-I still haven't gotten my copy of GoWC back, but as I said last time I'm in no hurry. I'm so tired of God of War that I'm not even gonna play Ghost of Sparta.

Infamous (100%Platinum; up from 86%)
-Playing Infamous on Hard difficulty and chasing bad guys to try all 21 stunts seemed like a cakewalk in comparison to finally finding that last F***ING Blast Shard on top on the extremely tall building next to the final boss fight crater. A couple of stunts seem to require more dumb luck than should be necessary, but it was nothing too extreme. Kessler walloped me when I first tried fighting him, so I reloaded a previous save, upgraded different powers and sought out a few more Blast Shards to get an extra Battery Core. I only died twice when I tried Kessler again. Woot!

To prove my 'money's worth' quip: I got my first trophy (Good Eats) in Infamous on June 25, 2009. I finally tapped out all trophies on August 10, 2010. Just like RE5, it lasted me a good long time.

Mirror's Edge (61%; no change)
-Haven't popped this one in again either.

Assassin's Creed II (100%Platinum; up from 22%)
-AC2 is the game that embodies the "wow is that the time" feeling I mentioned earlier. There is just so bloody much to do in this game, and you WANT to keep doing it. I must have played this game for 4 or 5 hours every night until I was done. It was a bit weird that the extra DLC chapters don't have trophies, though; most games would give you something, and knowing me I would buy the extra chapters for I game I only rented if they had trophies; I've done it for Prince of Persia and Brutal Legend in the past. AC2 game even makes hunting certain trophies easier; for instance, each city is divided into a number of districts. There are 100 feathers you are going to want to find throughout the game spread mostly across rooftops, and a few layers into the "Animus Desktop" menu contains lists of not just how many collectibles you've found, but also where you've found them and how many remain in a certain area. You see that, Sucker Punch? How they made it easy to find one small thing on a massive, open-world map? DO THAT IN INFAMOUS 2.

Final Fantasy XIII (5%; no change)
-I'm stuck about six or seven hours into the game; with only Lightning and Hope in my party, I have to fight another stupid boss (Odin, I think) who is only vulnerable to one specific THING, and I can't figure it out. Heck, I still don't know how I beat those twin-looking things with Snow.

And this next one is part of almost any trophy hunter's collection:

Terminator Salvation (100%Platinum; up from 81%)
-I rented this game slightly more than a year ago, but I had much less patience than I do now and couldn't finish all the levels on Medium, never mind Hard. But that 81% always bugged me ever so slightly, and in the last year I've been able to slowly inch my way through some fairly difficult highest-difficulty-level games. I went back to another game I had issues with on its highest difficulty (Uncharted 1) a while back, so I decided to re-rent Terminator Salvation and give it another go. I read a tip that turning down right-stick sensitivity to 30% works wonders, and what do you know, it worked. After two somewhat frustrating, forgettable, glitchy nights I've got another Platinum.

My copy of Madden 11 is due in the mail soon, my next rental will be MLB 10: The Show, and NHL 11 comes out on September 7. Sports games aren't very good with their trophies, so all the better that I did this wringing now.

(And quickly: WTF is BioShock Infinite? After reading and watching all about it, I have to ask, does it really need the BioShock name attached to it?)