Thursday, October 22, 2009

Borderlands is a blast

For fans of first person shooters AND RPGS, Borderlands is definitely a great game to play.  Picking one of the four types of characters while riding on a bus in the opening moments, you learn that you are on the planet Pandora to find a mythical treasure known as the Vault. 

The game hooks you in by giving you lots to shoot at and lots of loot to collect and sell.  Quests vary from finding items to repair appliances or other machinery to killing X number of bad guys.  As you walk through one area to another mobs spawn (or re-spawn if you've traveled past a location before) to give you experience points and loot.  To help you stay alive you wear a shield that can be swapped out for an upgrade (as with all other weapons in the game).  The shield takes the damage first and once it has been depleted your health will start to drop.  Various shields will replenish faster or slower depending on the type you equip.  Some even revive health. 

Battles can be fierce, but given that each class type has a special weapon that can be utilized, combat seems to end in the players favor.  Upon leveling up from killing enemies or completing quests, you earn a talent point that can be used to give your character an advantage in whatever style of play you prefer.  With the Hunter, Mordecai the choices are Sniper, Rogue or Gunslinger.  Similar to WoW, there aren't enough talent points to allow you to pick every talent to it's fullest.  This gives you the choice to pick one talent tree to get the best of one type of play or choose from some of each.  Talent point distributions like this really allow the game to give the player the opportunity to play their own way.  Another nice touch with gunplay in the game is the fact that as one type of gun is used (shotgun, pistol, combat rifle, etc) the character increases their proficiency giving them a better chance for critical hits and better damage.

Borderlands also allows for four player online co-op and 2 player split screen local co-op.  As of this writing I haven't had a chance to try out either because I have been enjoying my solo adventure.  The way combat is set up, it is obvious that game play would benefit from having more than one class playing at a time and the ability to invite friends from your friends list to your own game is a nice touch.  From the main menu of the game you can also browse for and join random multiplayer games which also allows you to see what level other players are at and what part of the world of Pandora they are in.  This is really great as well.

Aside from not trying out a multiplayer run through the game I can say that this game will definitely occupy a lot time for me in the foreseeable future.  My only complaint so far with the game is driving vehicles.  Everything is backward in my opinion.  Steering and moving forward are handled with the analogue sticks instead of the trigger buttons as is typical with most driving games.  I think if I give the driving enough of a chance I'll be able to not drive straight into rocks or buildings and hopefully rather drive over bad guys as the developers intended.

This is definitely a must have game this holiday season.  I'll keep you all updated as I spend more time in the world of Borderlands.

Sunday, October 18, 2009's a spoon

In 2003 Genndy Tartakovsky changed the perception of a sinking Star Wars franchise.  Mixing the art style of Samurai Jack with Star Wars and then forcing the story to be compressed into three to four minutes of action showed that a good Star Wars story could be told without bad acting or worse dialogue.  In 2008 Lucas started airing on TV a CG re-imaging of the Tartakovsky stories that tells the official Clone Wars story since the movies only briefly allude the beginning and end of the fabled battles.

Star Wars Clone Wars: Republic Heroes is set in the story from the 2008 series between season one and season two.  The concept of the game is a mix between LEGO Star Wars, Little Big Planet, and Star Wars Battlefield.  It takes some of the best aspects for each but some implementations are just not fully realized.

The game switches between playing as two Jedi or two Clones.  As Jedi you have lightsabers and the force, and playing as Clones you have guns and explosives.  Game play is a cross between button mashing when playing as a Jedi and twin-stick shooter when playing as a Clone.  Jedi can also jump on top of droids to either take control of them or (after paying for an upgrade) make the droids dance.  Combat for either type of play is mostly competent and intuitive but the game developers have added a tutorial throughout in the form of Yoda instructing players how to play.  The problem with this tutorial form is that you can't turn it off (but you can skip by pressing O) and the tutorial messages are repetitive and break up the game play.  Annoying are you, yes Yoda.

By the time I played through the first Act of the game I was accepting of the fact that even though I'm a smart gamer and can figure something out on my own, I would inevitably have Yoda pop up to explain what I'd already figured out. 

In the description above I describe the game as a mixture of LEGO Star Wars and Little Big Planet.  Playing through the levels you can collect little blue orbs for points which can be spent to buy combat upgrades, droid-jak upgrades, droid dances, masks and hats, and cheats.  I liken the game to Little Big Planet because there are different depths of field that you can jump from.  This is the one of the problems that makes this game frustrating.  Yoda (in one of his annoying tutorials) says that you can jump and the Force will land the Jedi where he's supposed to go.  But Yoda lies.  There are many times where jumping is critical to move forward in the level, but the Force doesn't seem to correct the path at all.  Fortunately death is meaningless in this game.  You die, but re-spawn very close by from where you died.  There is no penalty for death, no loss of blue orbs or Jedi points, so even if you miss where you're supposed to jump to and die, you can keep trying....again and again and again.

Apparently I'm a bit more critical than my kids.  They really enjoy this game.  They like the ability to make the droids dance (it's cute but breaks the moment of battle), they like the ability to change hats and masks, and they like the ability to replay missions as different Jedi than from the first "story" play through.

Multiplayer in the game is handled by allowing both players to play on the same screen as the partner to the main character (Jedi or Clone).  The kids really enjoy that too.

Overall, the game has some very annoying quirks, but when presented to young Star Wars fans, the game is not bad.

Also, for those who want relatively easy trophies, this is worth playing too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Pitt wasn't the pits

After my last review of Operation: Anchorage I loaded up The Pitt with some trepidation.  I was not looking forward to constant freezes and a rather dull story.  But I loaded the game hoping that a new environment with the same basic pallet of colors that the original game had would have less problems. 

I tend to play Fallout 3 with a slant toward stealth so that I can sneak up on enemies but it also allows me to slow down and enjoy the level of detail the designers put into each new area that I come across.  I really enjoyed the initial crossing of the bridge into The Pitt and was impressed by the varying levels of height that were employed for enemy placement.  The initial story wasn't that interesting.  Although I have to admit that after spending so many hours looking at and helping ghouls I was defintely grossed out by the new diseased look that the slaves in The Pitt had been given.

Exploring the initial area of The Pitt I was a little disappointed.  The new areas are basically just large squared off city blocks so exploration ends quickly.  The second quest left me at odds.  The quest simply asks you go into an area filled with Trogs (slaves taken over completely by radiation--losing skin and all human instincts) and retrieve 10 steel ingots.  The first 10 come relatively quickly, so you can easily return to the quest giver and move on.  My dilemma stems from turning the easy 10 or searching for all 100 hidden within the area for a silver trophy.  Ah the trophy.  Sounds easy right?  Well...I've gotten 90 steel ingots and have decided to stop looking (for now).  There is only so much time I want to spend in one area. 

So I returned the 10 ingots and continued on with the story quest.  As I previously stated I wasn't really excited about the quest story up to this point, but once you realize what the "cure" is to help the slaves I was immediately sucked in.  This final trophy quest is what really brings out the best in all of the Fallout 3 quests.  The ability to give you a choice to help one group or their opposition with an end result that leaves you feeling morally dirty at the end of either choice.  This last quest brought me right back to the Tenpenny Tower quest and the Paradise Falls quest from Fallout 3.  I don't want to spoil the quest for those who haven't played The Pitt yet but I have to say that the last quest is definitely worth paying for the DLC.

One thing that I have not discussed about The Pitt is whether or not I had any technical difficulties.  As I mentioned in the beginning I loaded up The Pitt with some trepidation but found the game to run smooth throughout the entire experience.  I had one freeze-up but I'll chock that up to a failure in the Fallout 3 engine and not the DLC specifically.  Too many enemies and friends all battling at the same time on multiple planes seem to have choked up the game engine at one point late in the third quest.  After a reboot the quest finished without any further problems.

I would definitely give The Pitt a recommendation after the disappointing Operation: Anchorage DLC.  I'm still going to hold off on Point Lookout and Mothership Zeta for now, mostly because there are some other good games coming out soon that I'd rather save my money for.

Until those come out, I've rented (against my better judgement) the so far, disappointing Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes game.  More on that after a thorough play through.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Operation: Broken Anchorage

I can honestly say that I feel ripped off.  Both by Bethesda and Sony for allowing Operation: Anchorage to be released with so many problems.

First off the story itself is only minimally interesting.  After playing through Fallout 3 for close to 200 hours and seeing the slide during loads saying Alaska Liberated many many times, I was hoping that O:A would be a decent story and adventure.  The first leg of the journey was fairly interesting.  Traveling up a cliff face with potential enemies coming from above or below was neat.  Seeing white rocks and snow was neat.  Seeing how an enemy died--a cyber degradation similar to a kill from the Plasma rifle or Alien Blaster--was neat.  Being able to heal and restock ammo from a different source was neat.  Neat. For the first hour of play.

After that it got boring.  Boring because the only enemies the DLC seems to offer are either flame throwers, missile launching troops, or stealth snipers.   Any combo of these three could show up and attempt to ambush you, but you also have a companion and VATS.  At the time that my character started playing through O:A I was at level 24 and Small Guns, Big Guns, and Energy Weapons are all at 100.  Using VATS in O:A seems almost and unfair advantage when combined with the companion who seems to be a crack shot. Boring because there are healing and re-stocking ammo stations too close together.

Maybe that's why Bethesda decided to release a buggy add-on.  I had the game freeze up so many times when I entered VATS that I was ready to just give up playing.  The worst part of O:A freezing up is that the only that I could get it to unfreeze was to restart the whole PS3.  LAME!  Of course if you restart your PS3 and then launch the game again any progress you made from your last save up to the freeze is completely gone.  The worst part is that you can't really anticipate when your next freeze could happen, so you start to train yourself to save often--too often.  This saving often is ridiculous for two reasons.  First, the save process is slow and takes up unnecessary hard drive space.  Second, the game shouldn't freakin' be this buggy that I have to RESTART my PS3 to unfreeze a game.  Seriously how did this get passed through QA checks from Sony?  Or is it because the game is set in a different environment that doesn't use the muted grays, greens and browns of the Capital Wasteland, so the rendering engine doesn't know how to handle what it is trying to draw?  Or is it because the environments are mostly open areas with long view distances that the render engine is having a hard time trying to render all of the information in the viewing area and keep the AI variables all in check.  Yeah.  That must be it. 


It's shitty ass coding.  You know how I know.  Because the game freaking locked up on my when I tried to access a computer terminal in the game too!  A freaking computer terminal.  What is there to render with a computer terminal?  Fill screen with green and black.  Run loop for cracking terminal password.  It works all the time in the original Fallout 3 so can't it work in O:A?

Seriously.  This is completely unacceptable.  But Bethesda already got my money.  They've also already got my money for Broken Steel and The Pitt.  Will they get my money for Point Lookout and Mothership Zeta?  That is questionable.  If they fix the bugs and offer a patch then sure I'll pick up the last 2 DLC. 

I love the environment and the game play that Bethesda has created in Fallout 3, but releasing really crappy code, game breaking code, is completely inexcusable.

If you enjoy Fallout 3 and want more, DON'T waste your money on Operation: Anchorage.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Who you gonna call? The Lone Wanderer

This was a gaming weekend.

Some family came to visit and wanted to watch the dreadful U of M, MSU game on the big screen so I ended playing Ghostbusters on the Wii with the boy upstairs.  I got Ghostbusters back in July for my birthday.  I played it for a day or so on the Wii and enjoyed playing it, but found that the game (at least in my opinion) was much better suited as a single player game than a two player, split screen game.  The controls for the Wii aren't bad, in fact if I played the Wii more often with first person POV games I'd say that they were pretty good for the hardware used.  You point the Wii-mote at the screen to move your view around, move it too far left or right on the screen and your character turns left or right (or if you veer off to the left or right your character starts to spin in a very fast dizzying fashion--first bad point).  You move forward with the nunchuck.  Switching between the various Ghostbuster gadgets is handled simply with the D-pad, and pressing either A or B to activate said gadgets.

Now the game will let you play the story mode in single player and two player mode.  I was all for playing in single player because you get the chance to see the whole world filling the entire screen.  The kids of course wanted nothing to do with my gamer wishes and insisted that we play in two player mode.  The second bad point to the game is playing in two player mode.  Split screen forces both players to view the entire world in half the space on the screen, which makes for squinted viewing.  After a day of playing two player mode back in July I had had enough.  So I stopped playing.  The story was decent and the replay is worthwhile--ghosts and other objects to scan, art to find, but a combination of the split screen and the constant pointing of the Wii-mote at the screen was just enough to keep me from going back.

So back to this weekend.

The boy wanted help with a section in game and since I didn't have any real interest in the U of M game after the first quarter I went up stairs to help if I could.  Coming into the story after not playing for several months I found it easy to catch up without feeling like I'd missed anything important.  The voice acting is definitely great, the art style on the Wii is fun and after a few minutes of re-acquainting myself with the controls I was enjoying the game quite a lot.  We got through the area that the boy had been stuck on and then found another section that had us both literally ready to throw our Wii-motes at the screen.  Both of us wanted to kick the TV, the Wii, anything to help us get out our frustrations with a section in the game that felt completely broken when using the Wii-mote.  As described above you move forward with the nunchuck and view by moving the Wii-mote pointer off to the left or right.  The section in question required four different chains to be pulled down with the Ghostbuster beam, which in turn would then raise a platform for you to walk across.  The problem is that the platforms drop after a few seconds so you have keep moving.  Aiming with the Wii-mote exasperates the experience because if you move too quickly with the Wii-mote, your target zooms off the screen and you can't pull the next lever to raise the next platform so that you can keep moving.  We were both ready to just give up.  The worst part about this section we were stuck in is that it was just a few paces further along from where my son was stuck before.  My first thought was if the rest of the game is this broken-hard, we'd never see the end.  Fortunately after many tries one of us was able to cross the four death platforms and move around the corner.  Another plus to the game design is that if one player moves to a section in the game that moves the story forward both players get moved along.  Finally we ended up playing through that horrendous level to find that the rest of the game, while challenging, had a satisfying ending.

Overall I'd say Ghostbusters on the Wii is worthwhile in short bursts.

After the kids went to bed I fell back into my old routine with Fallout 3.  I'm a sucker for that story and environment and now that Bethesda has finally released the DLC for the PS3, I had to try out Broken Steel.  Loading up my Good Karma save from March (or so) I finished the original story sacrificing myself but letting Project Purity run to clean up the Wasteland water, watched the endgame narration and then found myself waking up with the Brotherhood back at the Citadel.  So much time away from the game but everything felt so right and good to be back.

At the end of my good karma save I had Fawkes as my companion.  Running through the Broken Steel missions with Fawkes almost felt like cheating, but at the same time felt like it was my way of allowing that great Super Mutant his moment to exact retribution on those that would otherwise slaughter him.  I ended up playing through the 3 trophy missions from Broken Steel in roughly half a day even with a few glitches to the game.  The first major glitch was early on where a fast travel from one location to another which hard locked the PS3 and I had to power off the console altogether.  The second major glitch involved a VATS battle near the end of the 3rd mission in which the game never came out of VATS even though all the enemies were dead.  Another full reboot of the console was required.  Sadly I had to restart the console, fortunately I was never far into an area without saving where I'd have to restart the console.

Of course after finishing the missions from Broken Steel I've become hooked again by the Lone Wanderer.  I've picked up Operation Anchorage and The Pitt and I'll post my thoughts on those soon.

"Thanks for listening children....this is Three Dog....AAAWWWWHHHHH"