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by Ethos

Dragon Age II Demo Impressions: Yeah, It’s a Lot Better

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

To all fans of Dragon Age Origins on the PS3 and Xbox 360, heed my words: you need not fear for the fate of Dragon Age II. In fact, if the rather robust and lengthy demo recently released on PSN, XBL and PC is any indication, you should instead mark your calenders and start counting down. It looks like BioWare plans to follow up Mass Effect 2 with style.

Strong words, you say? Sure, but I’m willing to stand behind them 102%. Let me explain why.

It actually looks, feels, and plays like a current-generation title

In fact, it may be the most aesthetically slick videogame that BioWare has ever created. Presentation values have been upped big time, and injected with a dose of stylization that gives Dragon Age II a real cinematic punch. Cutscenes are easily on par (and perhaps beyond) those of Mass Effect 2: well-acted, well-directed, and looking fantastic. Character models don’t have hyper-realistic textures like those of Uncharted 2 or Dead Space, but BioWare compensates for this with a mild cartoon touch to the graphics. It’s very subtle, to the point where it’s difficult to notice unless you put Dragon Age II side-by-side with its predecessor. But it works.

And it’s not just cutscenes, but all of the game that impresses. Not looking like shit through a grainy lense would have been improvement enough, but Dragon Age II actually looks quite pretty – I can’t say if this will apply to the entire game, but the areas I traveled through in the demo seemed much more intricately designed and detailed than those of Dragon Age Origins – which often suffered from a general blandess to its environments.

It runs better, too. Much better. No more slowdowns, frame hitches and obnoxious pop-ins. Even when the action is hot and heavy, with numerous foes on-screen, the game doesn’t slow down. You can tell it’s been designed from the ground up for consoles this time. Surely a sore point for PC gamers, but to exclusively console gamers such as myself, it’s a wish granted.

The combat system has been improved in every way. (Speaking as a console gamer)

But, we all expected the game to look prettier. The big question about Dragon Age II, since its initial unveiling, has always been its revamped combat system. Gamers (perhaps justly) fear that the newfound focus on action and gore will detract from the game’s more cerebral elements. Well, once again: lay your fears to rest. Combat in Dragon Age II is not only faster and more accessible – it’s deeper, too.

That’s right, it’s deeper, and it allow for a greater level of tactical control over your party. Like the original Dragon Age,  you can pause the action by bringing up your Radial Menu. Once you’re there, though, there’s a few more things you can do than before.

First and foremost, you can queue up commands now. Remember how, in the original game, once you selected an action from the menu, the game would automatically close the menu and the character would perform the action? Sort of annoying, right? Especially if you’re trying to manually issue commands for each of your party members at a single given time. Dragon Age II does away with this frustration by allowing you to select an action for each of your party members, and then close the menu to let ‘em rip. You still can’t stack commands, though. (i.e, select a string of two or three for a single character.)

Another useful addition is the Move To Point command, accessible from the aforementioned Radial Menu. In Origins, if you wanted to, say, re-position your Archer, you’d have to go take control of him yourself, and run his ass over to whatever point you had in mind. Not so any longer! Select “Move To Point,” position the marker, and the selected character will promply run to wherever you’ve directed him/her. It’s incredibly useful, and also necessary to overcome some of the more hectic encounters. My only complaint is the camera angle – it’d be nice if the console versions featured the ability to pull the camera back for a more tactical view of the map. Apparently, though, this is the bone being thrown to PC users. Which, seemingly, is the only reason we console gamers can’t do it.

Flemeth has drastically changed up her wardrobe.

Another notable addition is the importance of distance and space. You can move around the battlefield a lot faster and more smoothly in Dragon Age II. And that’s because it’s actually possible to avoid damage this way. Now, when a big, nasty troll charges at you like a bull,  you can do a quick sidestep. Then you can go start wailing on his back, if you’re quick enough. It’s the single addition that makes Dragon Age II feel more like an action game. To me, it’s a welcome addition – it simply adds another layer to an already layered combat system.

Dragon Age II may look like hack-and-slash at first glance, it’s not. Sure, you press the X button to execute individual sword-swipes, you can run around freely, and there’s lots of fancy, stylized action moves – but it only takes a few moments of playing to realize that all actions are still dictated by a very fast, unseen ATB bar. Kinda like Final Fantasy XIII. (Except you could see it in that game.) Mash buttons as fast as you want; the game is still essentially turn-based. It just does a damn good job of hiding it.

I could go on and on about this demo; if you can’t tell, I enjoyed the crap out of it, and it’s made me much more excited for Dragon Age II than I was prior. If you have a PS3, 360 or a capable PC with an internet connection, go try it out for yourself. I’m going to take this opportunity to shut up before I say too much about a demo. Dragon Age II hits North American shores on March 8. You can be assured that I’ll have much more to say about it then.

~Riddles

Catherine Demo Impressions & Such (Happy Valentine’s Day)

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Man oh man. Sorry I’ve been a little scarce this week gents and ladies; but I’ve been rather busy as it were. It’s Valentine’s Day today – on a Monday – so the preceding weekend was a very, uh, taxing one at work. Because I work in a restaurant. And Valentine’s Day (along with its corresponding weekend) is the occasion for many, many romantic steak dinners. I had yesterday off, but I did nothing except file my taxes and watch I Love You Phillip Morris. (Which is a good movie, by the by.) I needed a day to do jack shit.

I work today, but not until later, 5:30 in the evening to be precise. It is now 12:43. Surprisingly, I’ve already been up nearly five hours, which is highly atypical. In that time, I’ve cleaned my apartment, done a decent bit of loafing about, and played through the demo for Catherine, which is available over Xbox Live. If you’re in Japan, that is.

Well, you don’t have to be in Japan, but you need a Japanese account, which I have. So I downloaded the demo, which is almost entirely in Japanese, and played through it. Despite my utter inability to comprehend any text or speech, it was still interesting. I can’t say that it enthralled me, but it held my attention, and made me curious – though not exactly anxious – to see the final product.

To begin, the game’s hyper-stylized presentation is certainly an attention-grabber. The Atlus logo drips crimson blood, the music is dark and moody, and the colors are somewhat muted to ensure nothing ever looks bright or inviting. You’ll notice all of this before you even get past the menu screen, which is one of the more bizarre menu screens in recent memory.

After starting the demo you’re dumped into a gameplay scenario. You take on the role of some dude named Vincent, who’s caught in some crazy dreamworld with naught but his underwear and a pillow. I couldn’t understand any of the Japanese tutorials, but it didn’t matter, because the game is quite easy to pick up – you ascend a giant staircase of sorts; but to proceed, you have to push and pull several blocks, in what becomes one, long continuous puzzle to the top. There are extra lives and coins to collect on the way if you’re so inclined. It’s interesting enough, but this is clearly not an RPG, for those still wondering.

After completing the stage, which took mere minutes, I was able to see what appears to be the other half of Catherine’s gameplay: cutscenes. Suffice to say, this wasn’t terribly interesting to me, because it was all in Japanese, and I don’t know Japanese. I can say, though, that the 3D animation for the in-engine cutscenes is actually pretty good. It looks like a next-generation Persona game, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s not as hyper-realistic and shiny as, say, Dead Space 2 – but it looks very attractive in its own right.

Yep.

Yep.

There was one point at which I was able to access my cell phone and read messages, which was intriguing, even though – once again –  it was all in Japanese. But, it does hint at the possibility of a Social Link-esque gameplay mechanic, where Vincent must maintain his relationships with the game’s two main female characters – Katherine and Catherine. (See what they did there?)

Next, I was dumped into another gameplay scenario, which was exactly the same as before – except this time, I had a big nasty monster hand pursuing me from below, so I had to move up those stairs fast. Still, it wasn’t terribly difficult, I made it on my first attempt. It was fun, though.

I wasn’t able to glean a whole lot from a Japanese demo, but Catherine looks… interesting. For some odd reason, when I play it, I think of  a Japanese Heavy Rain. Which makes little sense, because the gameplay is nothing like Heavy Rain… aside from the part where there’s very little gameplay to speak of. From what I’ve read, Catherine won’t be a very long game, which seems good if all there is to it is staircase-ascending interspersed between cutscenes.

Catherine looks like it could be a unique gaming experience, complete with an intriguingly dark and bizarre premise that has undeniable appeal to anyone who can appreciate some good old Japanese weirdness. But, while the demo answered a few questions, it left me roughly as confused as before. I’ll need the final product before I can predict if I’ll even like the game.

Well. I still have a good four hours before work. We’re supposed to start a new theme week tomorrow, although we probably won’t, mostly because we haven’t come up with one. In the meantime, here’s at least one more gaming confession for the week: While – unlike Ethan – I’ve completed several 2D Zelda games, such as A Link to the Past, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, and Link’s Awakening, I never could bring myself to finish the original Zelda for NES. In fact, I’ve only ever gotten past the first dungeon. I honestly can’t stand it, it’s a terrible game to me. Same with Zelda II, though I think the world is more willing to forgive me for that one. Oh, and for what it’s worth, I’ve never actually played The Minish Cap for GBA. I own it, though. Have for years. Maybe I should break out the ‘ol GBA and give her a go. Or buy a 3DS and download it. I am getting a thousand bucks from the government in a week or so. Last year I used it to go to Toronto. (That was almost exactly a year ago to date, now.) Maybe this year I’ll just buy a bunch of electronics. One thing’s for sure: I need a new TV in a bad way.

Oh, and I don’t usually do this, but…

“OMG WHO R TEH ARCADE SUBURBZ WHY THEY R WIN GRMY AN NAWT EMINEM ORGAGA ZOMG”

For fuck’s sake, America, I don’t ask that you enjoy good music, just have the decency to respect when it is – inexplicably – recognized for being good music in place of the usual suspects. Jeezus.

Dead Space vs Dead Space 2

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Alright! I’m off work, I don’t work tomorrow, I have a WORKING check card (i.e, I actually have access to my fucking money) and since approximately noon Thursday, I’ve been the proud owner of the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition. What does all this mean? It means we can start talking Dead Space.

But, while it may appear that I’ve been entirely unproductive thus far, that’s not quite true: over the last few days, I’ve played through the original Dead Space for a second time. Originally, I just wanted to start a PS3 file so that I could unlock the Plasma Cutter in Dead Space 2, but I ended up remembering how completely awesome the game was, and decided to play through the whole thing.

I defeated the final boss at about two in the morning on Thursday. And roughly thirteen hours later, I started Dead Space 2. So. Being in the process of playing the games back-to-back, how do they compare to eachother?

Dead Space: Two Years Later

Let’s talk about the original Dead Space. Yes, I know it’s over two years old at this point and the world is ready to move on to the much-hyped sequel. But the original Dead Space deserves at least a little attention – mostly because the game is still really, really good. That’s not to say that I expected a two-year old game to feel dated; I  just didn’t expect the experience to be as engaging a second time. It was – and possibly even more so.  I was thoroughly engaged yet again, for another death-dodging 12-hour romp (or creep, I should say) through the metallic, blood-stained hallways of the USG Ishimura. Even though I knew the mystery behind all the horrors around me, I was still more than happy to experience them again. And even though I’d played through it all before, the game still scared me on more than a few occasions.

Dead Space is a textbook example for building an immersive and palpable atmosphere within an interactive medium. It takes a few pages from BioShock, (as many games do nowadays) builds a similarly atmospheric experience and rounds it out with a more focused, in-depth narrative. As you should all well know, for me to compare a game with BioShock is an honor indeed. The concept behind Dead Space isn’t quite as original, or “intellectual,” shall we say, as the ideas behind BioShock’s narrative. But as a game – dare I say it – Dead Space might be even better. (And for what it’s worth, I can say with certainty that it’s miles better than BioShock 2.)

Honestly, it’s difficult to find issues with Dead Space. Writing, acting, combat, exploration, puzzle elements, graphical presentation, and sound design are practically flawless. There are, perhaps, some minor flaws with pacing and mission design at times – the primary annoyance is that you end up feeling like an errand boy, with disembodied voices directing your every move. Your every attempt to get off the ship is thwarted by some awful coincidence or catastrophy, and after a while it starts to wear rather thin as a plot device. It all culminates in the awfulness of Chapter 10, “End Of Days,” which sees Isaac running back and forth through a suspiciously small area and fighting way too many goddamned Necromorphs, all while – literally – searching for keycards. Come on. Really?

But aside from being an hour or so too long, Dead Space is a class act. And, as all who have finished it know, it begs a sequel. A sequel that I now own, and have played a bit of.

In Which I Describe the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition, Lament How Much it Cost, and Use Many Parentheses

Allow me to take a moment here to discuss the fact that I bought the Dead Space 2 Collector’s Edition. It comes with a PS3 port of Dead Space Extraction, (which, ironically, might convince me to invest in a Move)  a replica Plasma Cutter (which I have to admit is pretty cool, even if it isn’t life-sized) the original soundtrack (which I frankly doubt would be an enjoyable listen outside the context of the game) a “concept art lithograph” (which essentially looks like a Dead Space postcard) and a downloadable Zealot Force Gun and Suit (which I’ll probably be too lazy to ever download or use.) So, was it worth $80? (Almost $90 including tax, and almost $100 if you count the Subway sandwhich I bought while I was out.) Nah, probably not. I just wanted to buy a Collector’s Edition of something, because I’ve never done it before. It felt kinda good. Also, writing all those parenthetical statements amused me.

Dead Space 2: The First Three Hours, and How They Compare to the Original

Okay. It’s actually many hours later now. I’ve played more Dead Space 2. I’m roughly halfway through Chapter 4, and I’ve written down two full pages of notes and then some. (It’s something I tend to do.) So, I’m equipped to talk about it… a little bit, anyway.

Dead Space 2 is a similar, yet different beast. From the outset, it’s clear that Visceral had no intention of re-creating the original Dead Space in terms of atmosphere. Yes, it’s still creepy and unsettling in nature, environments are shadowy and blood-stained, lights flicker, there’s a bunch of unnerving shit written on the walls, and Necromorphs still like popping out of vents and ducts to scare the living fuck out of you. But it’s a few big things, and a variety of little things, that make Dead Space 2 stand apart from its predecessor.

I’ll go ahead and name the big big thing: location. In place of a claustrophobic spacecraft, Dead Space 2 is set in a massive space-station colony known as Sprawl. The atmospheric shift is notable. You’ll walk past windows and be treated to the sight of a massive, futuristic cityscape, complete with Star Wars-esque hovercrafts flying about. Inside, you’ll make your way through residential and commercial areas of the station, with futuristic schools, restaurants, and hobby-shops. At one point, I even found myself inside a child’s room – crude crayon drawings were taped to the walls, lullaby music was playing, and holographic ponies danced on the wall. Frankly it’s somewhat bizarre to see, particularly after having just completed the original Dead Space. But, it serves a purpose – children, like everyone else, are not spared the hideous effects of the Necromorph outbreak.

I’m not saying any of this is a bad thing. Like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 is a deeply atmospheric experience, and I’m totally into it after a few short hours. I’m merely noting the drastic differences, and how they affect the feel of the game.

Aside from the obvious shift in location, more subtle additions tend to alter the feel of the game. As promised, Dead Space 2 features more brutal, fast-paced combat. It also features a lot more ammo. A lot more. I’ve yet to even come close to running out. This may not be the case later in the game, but as of now, the resource-conservation aspect of gameplay is pretty much gone. It’s not gone entirely – med packs, for example, seem to be less plentiful. And while Stasis now regenerates slowly, it does take a good bit of time, meaning you still have to ration it wisely for individual battles. But, frankly, neither of these things are of much consequence when you’re free to pump as much ammo into an enemy as your heart desires.  Again: this could very well not be the case in another five or six hours. But it’s the case for now.

I’d be remiss, however, not to mention that combat in Dead Space 2 is still challenging and hectic. You will still fear for your life, and you will still die. By my experience, at least.

This article’s running a bit long, but before I conclude, I’ll touch on one final subject – a subject many might consider the “elephant in the room,” as it were – Isaac’s newfound vocality. To put it simply: I like it. I wasn’t sold when it was first revealed, because I always considered his silence as one of the primary components of the original games’ atmosphere. And I still think that – but it’s not a component of Dead Space 2’s atmosphere, and it doesn’t need to be. This is a different Isaac. He’s been through this shit before, he hasn’t been able to catch a break for over three years, he’s tired of it all, and he has some things to say about it. He doesn’t whine about how shitty his situation is or how terrified he feels. In fact, he’s sort of a defiant sonofabitch, which I like. I appreciate Isaac’s vocality in Dead Space 2 for the same reason I appreciated his silence in the first game: it contributes to the game’s intended atmospheric feel.

Also, I’d be remiss not to mention: occasionally our friend Isaac brings back the silent schtick, and that’s always satisfying to see. Sometimes, he’ll sit silently through a radio or video transmission, content simply to listen – suggesting that, perhaps, he’s just the silent type in general. Makes sense.

Pointless Internal Monologue

That was quite long. Hence why I decided to separate it into segments signified by BOLDED LETTERS. I almost considered breaking it into two articles, but then I realized that would be fairly pointless. Just like this paragraph.

Conclusion

Ahem. I will be playing more Dead Space 2 very soon, and I’ll probably write more about it too. Sound off below with questions, concerns, or opinions about the game if you’re playing it.

Dead Space 2 Demo Impressions

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve Eve, Riddlethosians.

I know “Christmas Eve Eve” isn’t a thing in reality, but I’m making it a thing now. Take note.

Also take note of the fact that I’m actually addressing you now, not my dark and private memoirs. Don’t know how that thing got on the site, but I blame Ethos. Somehow.

That aside. Ignoring the irony of the fact that I’m writing more on Christmas Break week than I have the last two weeks, I’m here to talk about the Dead Space 2 demo, which is available on PSN and Xbox Live right now.  To download the thing, I had to rig a fantastically impractical setup, in which the cords connecting my modem, PS3, and TV are stretched across the room.

A pain, yes, but I really wanted this demo. And the Mass Effect 2 PS3 demo, just for the hell of it. And Warrior Within HD.

But the Dead Space 2 demo was highest on my priority list. It’s my most anticipated game at the moment, and I couldn’t wait to get a look at the sequel. After playing through the demo once, my initial reactions are – unsurprisingly – quite positive.

It’s certainly Dead Space as we know it. The controls, menus, aesthetics, and overall feel of the demo invoke the original Dead Space – but I don’t view this as a bad thing at all. I was amazed at how immersed I became in a half-hour demo.

First of all, the game is still creepy. Sure, it’s familiar, but the atmosphere is still masterfully constructed, just as it was in the original game. Isaac’s voice is very rarely heard – you’re still in dead silence most of the time. And, for the record, Isaac’s voice is hardly offensive when it is heard. Judging from this demo, it seems that Visceral has struck a good balance.

After the atmosphere, the game’s most striking feature is its graphics. Simply put, they are phenomenal. I suppose I haven’t played the original Dead Space in some time, but there seems to be a noticeable jump in quality. Everything shines with a detailed polish I haven’t seen since God of War III  – environments, the hideous necromorphs, and especially Isaac’s Iron Man-esque suit.

Speaking of environments, there seems to be some interesting variation in the locales this time around. The first part of the demo sees Isaac tramping through the same sort of metallic, blood-stained hallways that we’re all used to – but, at one point, you encounter rooms decorated like a religious temple. The demo only gives scraps of dialog and story exposition, so I wasn’t able to piece together the context. Needless to say, I’m anxious for the full game so I can do just that.

Most of the mechanics were familiar to me, but the demo also briefly introduced the new zero-gravity hoversuit segments. It was a painfully short section, and it left me wanting to play around with it more. You might recall, the original Dead Space only allowed you to launch from one surface to another in Zero Gravity rooms. Not so any longer – with the fancy new Jetpack, Isaac can freely maneuver through zero gravity. It’s a lot of fun, and it creates some extremely cinematic camera angles for the action.

The demo is decent in length, but ended far too soon for my liking. Dead Space 2 looks to be covering some familiar ground, yes, but regardless it looks to be another tightly-controlled, atmospheric, and cinematic sci-fi experience. My Christmas is coming a month late this year; Dead Space 2 releases on January 25.

Check out the video below for a refresher course on the Dead Space story. It’s the opening video for the demo, and it’s pretty sweet. Beware of srs Dead Space 1 spoilers, though. I WARNED YOU.

Epic Mickey: The First Few Hours (or so)

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Haven't run into Goofy yet

I got and played the game last night. Haven’t been as productive tonight, so I thought I would at least write about it.

Epic Mickey is, so far, living up to everything I’ve read about it. Admittedly, I haven’t read that much, but the general opinion seems to be that the story, mood, characters, and music are spectacular, the visuals are good, but the cut scenes are lacking and the controls and camera stink.

This is largely where I stand too. I’m not that far in, so there’s not much that I haven’t seen already on the internet or during my extended preview session about a month ago. Therefore, I don’t have a properly formulated opinion on the story or characters. The opening scene is awesome, and I’m really digging the dilapidated feel of Wasteland. Also, I get the feeling that I’m being groomed to be able to take on a bunch of sidequests, which I’m really hoping for; the beginning has been disappointingly straight-forward.

In terms of the cutscenes, I agree that they feel a little under-produced. Mickey is voiced in Kingdom Hearts, but Epic Mickey only gives him Zelda-esque yelps and exclamations as punctuation. No full voice-work from Mickey or anyone else so far. And from what I read, that’s the case for the rest of the title.

Still, there is the occasional stylized 2D cutscene, and they at least look fabulous. Also, I’m having a blast playing around with Mickey’s animation. There was a point near the beginning of my experience that I strangely realized that I was playing a game with Mickey Mouse. I know it should be obvious, but it was a stark realization, and I was able to appreciate his outfit, his mix-matched design, and his cartoon-clichéd tiptoeing if I only tilted the analog stick a little.

The controls and camera, however, are pretty flawed. I’m a master at fiddling with shitty cameras, and contorting my hands into bizarre positions to accommodate, but it’s not something I should have to do. Also, Mickey feels really loose. He’s really slippery, which I suppose is a byproduct of him being partly made out of ink, but it would have been more effective if they just stuck with the cool dripping effect and didn’t make controlling the main character an occasional chore.

Also, the game is in SD and I don't get trophies

But back to the good, and that’s the choice factor. I was worried about the paint/thinner thing being way too black and white of a gameplay mechanic. And while it kinda is in some ways – each decision is technically binary – I often feel torn in how I want to play. That’s saying a lot for me, the guy who generally always wants to be the good guy. I often find myself rethinking a decision whether it’s “good” or “bad” and then wondering if those terms even really apply in such a bizarre world.

But don’t let me deceive you, a lot of this depth is just projected right now in the way I’m reacting to it. I haven’t yet come across any major effects from my style of play. And maybe – if the team did a good enough job – I won’t even notice unless I happen to play through again.

The point is that the “evil” path in Epic Mickey is far more appealing because it’s more mischievous than evil, and that sort of Mickey almost fits better in this world. A Mickey that causes trouble with his curiosity and that people react to with a mix of fear and respect.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. I’ll hopefully play a bunch more and give you more impressions from a more experienced perspective.

Soldier’s Journal – Five Days with Black Ops

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Whew boy. Here I am, late and barely within the timeframe of relevance – yet again!

It’s alright, though, I kinda like it here. (I couldn’t help but get used to it.)

So, this is Black Ops week. Well, it’s supposed to be over, but the banner’s still there. (Because I didn’t make the new one yet, ha ha!) As most of you know, I did, in fact, acquire a copy of the game. It was Thursday, right after I wrote the most recent HLL. If you recall, my balls were about to burst from anticipation – it’s been a long time since I wanted a game so badly.

So, the question is begged: if I’ve had it since Thursday, why the hell haven’t I written a damn thing about it? Two simple reasons:

1. The six-day work week recently made a dramatic return to my life. Time-consuming stuff.

2. During what free time I had, I couldn’t stop playing Black Ops long enough to actually write about it.

So yes. I’ve been playing lots of Black Ops. My time has mainly been spent with the game’s online multiplayer modes, but I’ve also played through a large chunk of the campaign, and dabbled in some Zombies. Wanna know what I think of it all so far? Well too bad, because here it is.

The Multiplayer

Amigad. The multiplayer, man. The fucking incredibly addictive multiplayer. It may all feel pretty damn familiar, but I’m perfectly fine with that. Call of Duty has been the showcase for console FPS gameplay, and Black Ops solidifies this fact.

Anyone familiar with previous CoDs since Modern Warfare will feel right at home in Black Ops. The same, finely-tuned focus-and-shoot gunplay is here, with melee attacks and grenades, both lethal and tactical, to back you up. There are some familiar weapons and some new weapons; the same goes for killstreaks and perks.

Some tweaks and adjustments have been implemented here and there; for example, you can’t equip a shotgun as a secondary weapon. As disappointing as this was to me, personally, I understand why – shotguns are more than powerful enough to function as primary weapons. As devestating as my ACR/SPAS-12 combo may have been in Modern Warfare 2, it was, perhaps, a little unbalanced.

There are some fun new killstreaks in Black Ops, such as the oft-discussed explosive RC car. The car is indeed a fun little device, although you may actually become bored of using it after a while. The Tactical Nuke perk from Modern Warfare 2 has been removed, which is good news for everyone aside from the lifeless wankers who can actually rack up a 25-kill streak and rub our faces in it with a fucking nuke.

Oh, yeah, and there’s a crossbow in the game. And ballistic knives. And tomahawkes. All entirely made of win, let me tell you. The maps are colorful and dynamic, the game runs fantastically, the matchmaking is top-notch – it’s all shining with the same level of polish we’ve come to expect from the Call of Duty franchise.

So while Black Ops is the same basic formula we’ve all grown used to,  Treyarch has made enough additions and tweaks to make the game worth your while. And I haven’t even talked about the most brilliant new addition to Black Ops: Wager Mode.

We’ve talked about Wager Mode before. Oh yes, some months ago I believe, when the game’s multiplayer modes were finally revealed to the world. Reference HLL #60 for detailed explanations of the four different Wager Modes if need be, or simply take my word that they are awesome. And incredibly, incredibly addicting.

Or, I should say that two of the four modes are. “One in the Chamber” and “Sticks and Stones” are both incredibly addicting and fun. One in the Chamber throws you in a map with five other players, three lives, and a pistol with a single bullet. Kill an enemy, and you take his bullet. One shot kills, and it’s a fight to survive the longest. It’s a tense, adrenaline-fueled distraction from the normal chaos of an online deathmatch.

Stick and Stones equips you with a crossbow, ballistic knives, and a tomahawk. Suffice to say, this primitive array of weaponry makes for some very unique, up-close and personal battles. Players kill eachother for points, and the top three at the end of the time limit win COD points. Hit someone with a tomahawk (which is damn hard to do) and you reset their score to zero, or “bankrupt” them.

The other two modes, Gun Game and Sharpshooter are fun as well, though not as impressive. Gun Game rewards you with a more powerful weapon every time you kill an enemy; first to cycle through them all wins. Sharpshooter simply gives you a random weapon every 45 seconds, which keeps things varied and interesting.

So yes. The multiplayer is still fantastic, and even more robust than before. I could go on about it if I chose to, but I will not. Perhaps we should briefly turn our attention to…

The Campaign

It’s funny how my own interests have shifted. When I first played Call of Duty, I had no interest in competitive multiplayer. I didn’t seriously start playing with Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer modes until months after the game’s release – and it took me a long, grueling time to get to a point where I didn’t die the moment my feet hit the ground. But, while my love and appreciation for the Campaign Mode may now be overshadowed by my addiction to the multiplayer, I’ve still found some time to spend with the campaign mode in Black Ops – and that time has been rewarding.

First and foremost, the way the game tells the story is unique and intriguing. You’re Alex Mason, a government Black Operative being held by captors with hidden faces and muffled voices. As they interrogate Mason about his missions as a government Black Operative, you’re placed in Mason’s shoes to re-live his hellish  history of covert warfare. It’s an effective technique, and it brings a much-needed tangible protagonist to the story. Unlike Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops actually knows how to take a breath every so often and develop some characters and plot points. The result is the most coherent and enjoyable storyline I’ve seen from the series.

So far, at least. I have not finished the campaign as of yet. Which is why I didn’t just write a review for the game. I can’t help but wonder if a review is redundant at this point.

Well, I guess I could talk about Zombies then. Because I haven’t really done anything with the Zombie mode. I can never kill the stupid undead dogs that come in on wave 5. It’s actually somewhat humiliating.

Well. We’ll see, I guess. Apparently a new Assassin’s Creed game comes out tomorrow. I’d be more excited, but I honestly don’t want to put Black Ops down for a second.

I suppose I’ll do what must be done. But, before we close out this week, let me go on the record saying that Black Ops is a fantastically enjoyable shooter on every level, and you should own it if you’re a Call of Duty fan. K? Thx. Bai.

~Riddles


Birth By Sleep: The First 8 hours

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I know Birth By Sleep Week is all but over, and that we’ve already given you our thoughts in the form of the “IM”pressions you see below. (Aren’t those things brilliant? I think they’re brilliant.) But regardless, I felt the need to give the week a bit of a send-off in the form of some good, old-fashioned written impressions. I’d hoped to have the game nearly finished/reviewed at this point, but, ah… that didn’t really happen, for a variety of reasons.

As I believe I mentioned in the IMpressions, Birth By Sleep is the first “full” Kingdom Hearts game I’ve played since Kingdom Hearts II. That Chain of Memories remake for the PS2 was little more than a bunch of cobbled KH1 environments, and even what I played of Dumb Name felt little more than supplementary.  And it’s been four years since Kingdom Hearts II. That’s a long time; a cruelly long time, in fact. So, while Birth By Sleep may not be the big, flashy PS3 relaunch of the series that we’re all still dreaming of, it’s still something that, as Kingdom Hearts fans, we can truly sink our teeth into. And that, alone, makes it worth the price of admission.

Birth By Sleep continues the trend of making us absorb dialog we should normally hate, and care about plotlines that would bore us if they were in any other game. How? The older I get, the less sense it makes, to be honest. But for some reason, in the eight hours I’ve spent with Birth By Sleep, I’ve grown care more about the events and characters than I have with any other RPG since Persona 4. It, for example, beats the living fuck out of Final Fantasy XIII – Disney characters and all.

But then again, I can’t totally discredit the merits of Birth By Sleep, and write it all off to an inexplicable charm. This shit is interesting, simply put. Seeing the history behind the Keyblade and its wielders is just plain interesting. Visiting Radiant Garden before it became Hollow Bastion, with the knowledge that it’s all gonna go to shit, is just a cool feeling. Kinda like the Star Wars prequels, but better. Kingdom Hearts may be a simple story of good versus evil – light versus darkness – but man, does it ever pull off this age-old concept well. Why? Because it doesn’t really try to do much more than that. It’s something to respect, frankly.

But of course, it wouldn’t be Kingdom Hearts without plenty of Heartless to bash around. Eight hours in, I think Birth By Sleep might just have the best combat in the series. Finally, a good balance between button-mashing and strategy has been found. This is instantly evident by the fact that you’ll probably actually die in Birth By Sleep. I have, at least. Multiple times. Boss battles are tough. Y’know, the way they should be. In Kingdom Hearts II, I don’t recall ever dying. And if I did, I doubt I did anything more than mash buttons harder the second time around. In Birth By Sleep, you’ll find yourself challenged to not only mash the X button like a crazy person, but to make sure you’re using defensive commands such as block and dodge, and ensuring you have a proper deck of commands for a given situation. If you don’t, you just might die. Also, I’m a huge fan of new additions such as Combat Stances and D-Links. Combat Stances are essentially what they sound like; for example, if you chain enough Fire-type attacks together, you’ll adopt a stance that grants firepower to all your attacks. It also makes you quite a bit faster and more powerful. It’s essentially the same as the different forms that Sora could take in Kingdom Hearts II. Unfortunately, none of them involve using dual-keyblades. Which kinda sucks. Dual keyblades are badass.

While this hardly needs to be said, Birth By Sleep is quite the looker; with the obligatory “for a PSP game” caveat. But, in perfect honesty, this game looks just as good as Kingdom Hearts II did – just on a smaller screen. The game does seem to suffer from a bit of slowdown when ridiculous numbers of enemies are on-screen, but this is relatively rare, and hardly an annoyance. If Squeenix knows how to do anything right (and this game proves that they can still do several things right) it’s make a pretty game.

I just wish there were Gummi Ship sequences. Where did they go? Just cruising around the map from an isometric view isn’t the same. At all. Oh yeah, and I wish Terra’s voice actor didn’t perpetually sound like he just woke up from a 27-year nap.

Other than that, as a Kingdom Hearts fan, it’s hard for me to complain much about Birth By Sleep. I wish I could review it for you, but suffice to say, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it for the last few days. If you’re a fan of the series, you absolutely will as well.

And with that, we bid our farewells to the week. ‘Till next time,

~Riddles

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep IMpressions – Outtakes

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Here’s the rest!


Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep IMpressions – Gameplay

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

As promised, more IMpressions! These aren’t the last either.



Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep IMpressions – Story

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Finally got around to these. More coming.