Archive for the Video Games Category

Heavy Rain [PS3]

Posted in Video Games on March 14, 2010 by Scott

To begin, I would like to tell you how I feel about a trend in gaming that has gained a certain spot in most action games; the Quick-Time Event (QTE). As a player of many action games, I have grown accustomed to the QTE, for better or for worse. For those of you not sure if you can recognize a Quick-Time Event, here is a handy guide: Does your game include cut scenes? Can you use these cut scenes as pee-breaks from your mega long sessions of gaming, or are you required to sit there and watch them because there is a button press (or sequence of presses) that you must complete in order to successfully conclude the cut scene? If this is the case, you have experienced the QTE. Quick-Time Events have become the bane of most action gamers’ experiences, since it becomes a lazy way of making you stay connected to the television when most people would tune out. For a better explanation of the evils of QTE, see many, many of the reviews on Ben Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation site, he has a humorous and accurate portrayal of the QTE.

Resident Evil 4, regarded almost universally as the best in the series, and without a doubt one of the top 10 action games (if not top 10 of any genre) of the last decade uses QTEs. The same can be said for the God of War series. My use of these two specific examples is mainly to serve one purpose; to show you, the reader the 2 examples of QTEs in games that I can remember liking. Until this past weekend, at least.

Heavy Rain, an “Interactive Drama” according to developer Quantic Dream, follows in the footsteps of an incredibly ambitious but ultimately failing project called Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit if you live outside the US). Indigo Prophecy placed you in the role of a number of characters, one a murderer who is being possessed by some manner of evil, as well as the 2 detectives trying to arrest this murderer. The story unfolds while you switch between these people; covering your tracks as the killer, and trying to dig up those very tracks as the detectives. The interesting thing about it, and why it ultimately disappointed, was its reliance on the use of the right analog stick to control your actions, and how the whole game seemed to be one big QTE. For some reason I was unable to figure out, Indigo Prophecy didn’t do it for me, but I saw the huge potential it had, which is why I was very excited for Heavy Rain.

Right away, Heavy Rain became a must play for me, the graphics alone sold me on it. The more details that were released, the better it sounded. But the control system still bothered me. How does one control a game where you must hold a button to walk, and interact with your environment not with the buttons on the controller but with the right analog stick? Let me put your mind to rest, the learning curve of Heavy Rain was well worth the effort.

You take the place of 4 characters, a father named Ethan, a private detective names Scott Shelby, investigating the case of the Origami Killer, an FBI agent Normal Jayden, who uses a sweet pair of sunglasses and a glove to investigate crime scenes in a seemingly virtual world (and whose GUI would put Tom Cruise’s Minority Report computer to shame), and a photographer, Madison, who plays an unknown role until later in the story. The story involves the Origami Killer, a man who has killed 8 victims, all by drowning them in rainwater and leaving their bodies in a wasteland area with an origami figure in one hand and an orchid on their chest. Without giving out any more spoilers than I already have, it become immediately apparent that Heavy Rain is going to be (for lack of a better word) heavy. Play the first scene (roughly an hour) without any emotion, and you aren’t human. You start as Ethan, waking up, showering, shaving, brushing your teeth, looking around your kid’s room and juggling if you like. You have a button solely for showing your characters thoughts and desires. if you get stuck, see what you are thinking and it will help you get moving.

You realize while playing that you are just seeing a tutorial level, but by god it is the best and most useful tutorial level in any game I have played. You may find it silly to waste time brushing your teeth or shaving in a game, but once you get into the meat of the game you will certainly be thankful that those actions were given to you to try out the innovative control scheme. Example 1 of the innovation in Heavy Rain: After choosing to take a shower as Ethan, select the shower, push the right stick up and remove your shirt, then push it down to remove your boxers. You get in, make a half circle motion to turn on the water, another to turn it off, and then you shake the entire controller up and down to dry your hair, and shake it side to side to dry your back. Does this seem to be too much? Yes, on paper. But in game, it become second nature. Want to turn on your car? Make a half circle with the right stick to turn the key. Driving your car? Tilt the controller right and left to steer. But all of this is done in the form of Quick-Time Events. Do yourself a favor, before playing Heavy Rain, get very familiar with your Dual Shock 3, or plaster a diagram under your TV so you can participate in the action of the game without looking away.

Example of innovation in Heavy Rain #2: The story is an actual branching story, with important choices to be made. The tagline of the game is “How far would you go to save someone you love?”. This is important to the overall tone of the game in ways I would be amiss to explain to you. Suffice it to say, there is a free-form ability to make choices in Heavy Rain, and the game does NOTHING to quantify or qualify your choices as correct or incorrect. They are just choices. You make them, you live with the consequences. I will admit, there were times that I was completely shocked by how I responded to choices in the game, and felt instantly remorseful or excited, not because the game told me to, but it was a natural human emotion to a stressful situation. A benign example of these choices is in the very beginning, as Ethan. He has a choice to watch TV and listen to music while doing yard work until his wife and children get home. or you he can do some work (he is an architect, and you draw an entire concept drawing if you choose this option). Either way, the story progresses, and you may never know the consequence of the other choice, unless you play again and make it. A final point that struck me about the story was the finality of your choices. If one of your characters died, the game will carry on without them. An amazing idea to be sure, it is just one more example of how must flexibility there is in the story, and the way it is told.

I would like to make a couple of gripe though. The game save almost every time you make a choice. While this is a great feature so that you don’t lose progress due to the game crashing or an emergency of some sort causing you to flee the game, it also left you unable to save the game in multiple slots. There was no manual save option, so if you were caught making a choice you didn’t like, you were stuck, there is no reloading last checkpoint in this game.  The story, however amazingly detailed and immersive  it is, has a couple of gaping plot-holes, big enough to cheapen the reveal just a little bit. The replay value is there, as there are multiple endings, and there are infinite combinations of choices that can be made, you will always know who did it. Its like watching The Sixth Sense again, you always know Bruce Willis is dead.

There is something to be said for being able to control a story as completely as you can in Heavy Rain. It is amazingly well written, animated, and acted. It is a tightly paced piece of art, and it will make you think. It is exceptional in its ability to show what games can be, if taken as art and if someone is willing to take a risk. It is not without its faults, though, as venture into such uncharted territory is, but for the most part they are easy to look over, and don’t harm the overall experience as much as they could have. It’s gritty, it’s scary, it’s unlike anything before it (Indigo Prophecy included).  It won’t be for everyone, it won’t set the gaming world on fire, but it is worth a play specifically to see what possibilities are present in Interact Drama. Play it, tell me about your experience, tell me how it turned out for you, and I will do the same. Be warned, you will feel awful for your choices in this game, you will have a very difficult time discerning wrong from right, and you will question how or why you could have done what you did. But savor that experience. It may never come again in games, and if this is the first and last game of its kind, then so be it. At least it happened once, and it was important. Not just as a game, but as a work of art. Heavy Rain is almost perfect, it gets a 5/5 from me.

Epic Incarnate: DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS (PC)

Posted in Video Games on December 1, 2009 by DTB

        

Introduction        

Originality.  It’s what’s missing from most modern fantasy.  Certainly there have been some exceptions, but most authors and filmmakers seem content to imitate Tolkien, Lewis, Leguin, and more recently Martin and Salvatore.  Fantasy has become several hundred thousand variations on the same theme, and I’ve been waiting for years (and am trying myself) to introduce something new into the archetypal mix.  If something revolutionary was to come along in the world of fantasy, I assumed it would take the form of a novel or film.  Little did I know that a video game would put years of lacking literary and cinematic creativity to shame, successfully fusing the realistic, political realms of George R. R. Martin’s work with the high fantasy of Tolkien to create something fresh, new, and entirely original.      

Enter Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware’s “spiritual successor” to my self-proclaimed “favorite game of all time,” Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn.  Set in an original fantasy world (the Baldur’s Gates and Neverwinter Nights occurred in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting), it establishes itself as more than worthy of such a title, easily donning the mantle of its predecessors while simultaneously introducing us to a living, breathing place at once familiar and wholly different than what we’ve seen in the past.  The nation of Ferelden is a political wasteland filled with civil war, squabbling lords, inept royalty, and an inexplicable nationalist pride.  The Dwarves of Orzammar live in a rigid caste-based society rife with betrayal and strife, though all look for hope in the most unlikely of places.  Elves, once proud and immortal, have been tainted by humans and lost virtually all semblance of their millennia-past identity, becoming short-lived servants, second-class citizens, or gypsy-like nomadic wanderers.  All who practice magic risk possession by the demons and evil spirits that walk within the eldritch realm from which they channel their powers.  A zealous religious order militantly polices such magic-users, slaying all who stray.  And atop this massive heap of despair and hopelessness comes the Darkspawn Blight, countless legions of corrupted demonic minions flowing forth into the land of mortals, killing all in their path.  Only the Grey Wardens, an ancient order of warriors drafted from peasants and nobility alike, can stem the tide.      

Revved, ready and raring to go...

  I’ve never wanted to save the world so much in my life.     

    

Origins       

The word “origins” is in the title for a reason.  According to Bioware, it alludes to the company’s return to its high fantasy RPG roots.  “Origins” also refers to the six origin options available for players at the onset of the game that establish a back-story for your character and color the ways in which characters interact with you forever more.  These origins include the following, some of which are considerably more impressive than others:       

Dwarf Noble:  You are the middle and favored child of King Endrin Aeducan, king of the dwarven city of Orzammar.  You have lived your life amongst the intrigue, blackmail, and power struggle that is dwarven politics.  Brother often turns against brother, and on a day of celebration in your honor, betrayal strikes.  This is a very strong origin, as the writing truly establishes your character as royalty.  Your character is accompanied at all times by his/her servant Gorim, who may be asked to speak to commoners in your stead.  Dialogue options are almost always appropriately arrogant.  The conclusion of this origin is tragic and quite moving, and Gorim is the most fully realized companion available in these origins.  The Dwarf Noble origin also showcases the magnificently rendered city of Orzammar, amongst the most graphically impressive areas within Dragon Age: Origins.     

A Dwarf Player Character

Dwarf Commoner:  You are a member of the Casteless, dwarves born and branded as the lowest of the low.  Having fallen in with the powerful crime lord Beraht, you and your sister Rica are forced to do his bidding as your ailing alcoholic mother withers away.  While Rica trains to become a concubine, your character does the muscle work for the crime ring.  Ultimately, an unlucky job goes awry and the authorities within the Warrior Caste get wind of your transgressions.  The Dwarf Commoner origin is very well executed, and probably includes the most combat-oriented gameplay.  There is far less roleplaying here than in other origins, though RP aficionados will still be delighted with what they’re offered.  Dialogue can also be quite amusing at times, as dwarf “street talk” is explored.  Additionally, the conclusion of this origin had a bit too much closure for my liking.  The primary antagonist is essentially dealt with, which lessens the urgency of the game to come.  This origin also takes place in Orzammar, though in different districts than the Dwarf Noble origins.

Dalish Elf: You are amongst the few Elves seeking to preserve their ancient, long-lost culture; a reclusive nomad who strongly resents the transgressions humans committed against your kind many centuries ago.  You and an old friend encounter and intimidate human salvagers who direct you to a cave wherein lies an ancient evil.  The Dalish Elf origin is without a doubt the weakest of the origin stories.  With no primary antagonist, there is little opportunity for emotional investment.      

An Elf Player Character

 City Elf:  You live in the Elven Alienage, a walled-off ghetto within Ferelden’s capital city of Denerim.  It is the day of your arranged wedding, and your best friend since childhood will also be joining you.  Before the ring-giving can occur, the human Arl’s son claims his right of primae noctis and takes the brides and bridesmaids to his estate.  If your character is male, you must mounta rescue of the young elven maidens.  If female, you must escape the vile man’s clutches.  Racial tensions explode as the proverbial pauper must defeat the prince.  I think the City Elf origin is perhaps the most original of the lot.  Having Elves as second-class citizens has never been done before in fantasy, and the writers of Dragon Age: Origins do an incredibly vivid job of depicting the racial tension and resentment between humans and elves.  Vaughan, the Arl’s son who abducts your character’s bride, is written very well.  The only origin character I hate more is Rendon Howe from the Human Noble origin.  Upon the conclusion of this origin, there are strong feelings of loss and regret, further immersing the player into the game world.     

Mage:  You are an apprentice of the Circle of Magi and one final test away from becoming a full-fledged Mage.  All that remains is the Harrowing, where you must venture forth into the Fade (the realm of dreams and magic) and confront the demons that lurk within its twisted, muted paths.  Upon completion, you are asked by an old friend to aid his escape from the Tower of Magi.  The Mage origin is the most visually beautiful, as the Circle Tower’s high, arched ceilings, stacks of bookcases and magical spells are nothing short of breathtaking.  The Harrowing itself is quite an enjoyable adventure, though the events that occur afterward are rather dull in comparison.  Why follow up an epic battle against demons with a basic “I want to get out of school” plotline?  Still, the origin establishes the world of the mages with absolute clarity, which is crucial should you decide to play a spellcaster.       

Davyn Cousland, my Human Noble character, with the companion Wynn to his left.

 Human Noble: You are the younger child of Teyrn (Lord) Bryce and Teyrna (Lady) Eleanor Cousland.  As your father and elder brother prepare to join the King against the Darkspawn, a covetous and traitorous rival nobleman named Arl (Earl) Rendon Howe (voiced by none other than the great Tim Curry) finds the time ripe for betrayal.  I found this origin to be the best of the lot, partly because it was the first I tried and the only origin I played all the way through to complete the game.  I have a more “personal” connection with it.  The Human Noble origin offers a larger variety of companions than the other origins as well, which includes your faithful Mabari war dog (who helps you on the proverbial rat hunt).  Your character’s relationship with his/her family is firmly and believably written, and each voice actor does a superb job of conveying the chivalric virtues and noble intents of each family member.  Tim Curry is wonderfully seedy as the insidious Howe, his voice dripping arsenic with each delivered line.  It’s a truly “epic” origin, the easiest to become emotionally invested in, and probably the most immersive as well.       

Also of note are subtle dialogue adjustments in each origin based on the gender of your character.     

Plot     

With your character’s origin complete, they are tasked with traversing the civil war embroiled lands of Ferelden to invoke ancient treaties that demand the aid of human lords, elves, dwarves, and mages against the Blight.  The stakes are set high, and the importance of this task feels real and urgent.  This is amongst the first games I’ve played where the side quests, while often interesting, pale completely in comparison to the game’s mission itself.  Yes, it’s fun to get extra armor, rescue captives, or rid a town of an undead plague, but fetch quests are simply silly when compared with the gravity of your primary task.  I never actively sought out a fetch quest, though if I circumstantially fulfilled the requirements along my travels, I’d certainly collect.  This speaks volumes about the quality of writing within the game.       

Story and character are what propel this game forward

It’s this intensity of story that propels Dragon Age: Origins forward.  While I loved Oblivion and its world of seemingly endless exploration, its main quest was somewhat lacking and character development of NPCs was nearly absent.  DA:O has a significantly more linear storyline, but its characters and writing are absolutely top notch.  While certain aspects may seem derivative, as the plot unfolds, its originality shines forth.  For a first-part game in a potential series, the plot of Dragon Age: Origins is as good as it gets.   

    

Characters     

 As in most Bioware titles, your companions are an essential component of the gaming experience.  However, there has never been a game with such fully realized NPC companions as Dragon Age: Origins, which shames even Mass Effect and Baldur’s Gate II with its eclectic assortment of party members.  Within the entire span of the game, it is possible to recruit ten unique characters (one of which is a secret so they won’t be revealed), all of whom have different morals, opinions, histories and dialogue.  Friendships can be forged, “romances” experienced, and even duels declared depending on your character’s actions throughout the game.  These characters feel more like fully fledged book or film characters, due in no small part to the voice actors and brilliant writing.  Main companion characters include the following:     

Morrigan - "I have prowled shadows that you never dreamed existed...am I an unnatural abomination to be put to the torch?"

Morrigan – Morrigan is the “flagship” character that Bioware has used to exemplify Dragon Age: Origins and with good reason.  She’s a mysterious beauty, bitter, often Machiavellian in her philosophy and a wicked witch to boot.  Claudia Black’s voice work for Morrigan is of a top-notch quality rarely even seen in animated films.  Her dialogue is elegantly written and often beautiful, with many Shakespearian flourishes that Black delivers with relish.  In the game itself, Morrigan is a wonderfully useful character, adding a massive offense of destructive magic.  She is also a “romance” option for male characters.   

   

Alistair - "Now that the warm fuzzy part is over with, we can get back to the ritual dismemberment. Oh wait, it's not Tuesday is it?"

 Alistair – According to the writers of DA:O, Alistair is roughly inspired by Xander of Buffy the Vampire fame.  The witty comic relief companion, Alistair is also morally sound and loyal to the bitter end.  Steve Valentine does some wonderful voice work here, bringing a naive cheekiness to such a grim game world.  In addition to his comic and dramatic merits, Alistair is also extremely useful with a blade.  He just might be my favorite character in the game.  Alistair is a “romance” option for female characters.   

   

Dog - "Happy bark!"

 Dog – In the Human Noble origin, Dog (you have the option to name him in the game…I called him “Jasper”) is the first real companion you can recruit.   Other origins find him later.  A Mabari War Hound, Dog is fiercely loyal to his owner and quite useful in a fight as well.  Other party members will react differently to the dog, adding a degree of comedy.    

   

Leliana - "Walking corpses? Do you think it's something in the water?"

 Leliana – A “lay sister” of the Chantry (the Church of Dragon Age: Origins), Leliana has not yet taken her vows when she joins your party.  Eventually, it is revealed that her past is far more colorful than expected.  Leliana hails from the nation of Orlais (essentially medieval France), and has a beautiful French accent.  Through dialogue, she reveals the culture and politics of this foreign nation in such detail, one wonders whether a Dragon Age sequel will be set in Orlais.  Her voice-over artist, Corinne Kempa, does a magnificent job conveying the dual natures of religious purity and roguish tendencies.  If your player character isn’t a rogue, Leliana may be the most useful member your party can have.  Adept at ranged or close combat, she is formidable in battle and equally comfortable scouting ahead for traps or unlocking treasure troves.  Leliana is a “romance” option for either a male or a female character.   

    

Oghren - "Let's show them our hearts, and then show them theirs!"

 Oghren – An alcoholic, down-on-his-luck dwarf, Oghren is the stereotypical, red-headed member of the “stout folk” used so often in fantasy…but with a twist!  Voice-over artist Steve Blum thankfully eschews the usual Scots accent for a very mid-western one and delivers a convincingly drunken performance.  In-game, Oghren is useful as a support warrior and is somewhat interchangeable with Sten in regards to functionality.

   

Shale - "Death to all pigeons!"

Shale – Shale is a Golem who despises birds because they defecate upon it.  Inspired by the hit character HK-47 from the Knights of the Old Republic games, Shale is quite amusing but also intriguing.  Its dialogue and plotline are written extremely well, and Geraldine Blecker delivers a hilariously sarcastic voice-over performance.  Shale is also very useful in a fight, bashing any and everything that assails it.  

 

Sten - "I like swords. I follow orders. There's nothing else to know about me."

Sten – A steadfast, cold, introverted member of the Qunari (an original race to the Dragon Age world), Sten is a convicted, confessed murderer who is on a mission from the fanatical rulers of his people to discover what exactly the Blight is.  Sten is one of the most multi-layered characters within Dragon Age: Origins, due in no small part to Mark Hildreth’s excellent voice work.  Also useful in combat, Sten is a mighty mystery of a companion and an original contribution to fantasy.  

  

Wynne - "I'm not the sort of person who leaves things unfinished. I'll see this through. I promise."

Wynne – A grandmotherly mage of the Circle, Wynne is kind, compassionate and the best healer in the game.  Her plotline and dialogue, as well as her concern for the well-being of your companions are solidly written, and Susan Boyd Joyce lends a calming, maternal vocal interpretation.  In game, Wynne was possibly the one character I almost ALWAYS included in my party while travelling.   

  

Zevran - "We all do our fare share of murdering around here, don't we?"

 Zevran – An assassin and philanderer, Zevran sounds like Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots from Shrek.  Like Leliana, Zevran is not originally from the nation of Ferelden.  He is from Antiva, a land of merchant princes and cloak-and-dagger politics that sounds a heck of a lot like Renaissance Italy.  During his very well-written dialogue, he reveals a great deal about this nation.  Zevran is unabashedly immoral, crude, and shamelessly details his life of debauchery.  Beneath it all, though, is a sensitive character forced by circumstance into his murderous life.  Jon Curry’s voice-over work has flawless timing and inflection.  Zevran is a “romance” option for both male and female characters.      

In addition to well-written characters, Dragon Age: Origins is also a shockingly progressive game.  Within the core companions, issues of racism, morality, sexuality, religion, and even philosophy are addressed and discussed at a highly adult level.  Conversations between your companions are superbly written, often hilarious, and surprisingly thought-provoking.  Including bisexual or homosexual “romance” options and the depth and breadth of topics addressed during conversations raises the bar in video game subject matter.  I’ve never seen such richly drawn and developed characters in a game.      

      

Gameplay       

Basic gameplay is excellent, and includes elements of past and present games to create something at once nostalgic and fresh.  Controls are intuitive and simple, with a quick bar for spell and potion access, well-displayed health/mana/stamina bars and a decent map system.  Like most Bioware games, your decisions will determine your companions’ opinions.  Should their approval rating reach a certain low point, they may leave your party or challenge your leadership.   Party selection for exploring and missions is similar to Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic, in that a screen appears where you can create combinations for your four-member team of adventurers.     

The Party Selection screen

Development of characters is quite intuitive, influenced significantly by the Knights of the Old Republic series rather than Dungeons and Dragons or the Oblivion leveling systems.  The three basic start classes each allow for nearly endless combinations of abilities and talents.  Additionally, you may add up to two specializations depending on class, which further narrow and refine your character’s strengths in combat and conversation.  Thankfully, there is no level cap in Dragon Age: Origins.  The pace at which one levels up is brisk and generous, as are the rewards garnered from gaining experience.  It’s a near-perfect character progression system.

Combat, even on easier settings, is very challenging (which is how it should be, dang it!).  Area of effect spells allow for friendly fire.  Terrain is crucial to executing well-timed attacks and counter-attacks.  Boss battles actually feel like boss battles, and may require reloads and re-assessment of strategies.  Of essential note: DO NOT try to tackle a dragon until you are at least Level 15.  Death is handled in a way similar to past Bioware titles – each time a character falls in battle, they will not rejuvinate unless the last enemy is dead or a suitable spell is cast upon them.  Additionally, trait-reducing wounds are added to a character each time they fall unconscious, which is remedied either with healing or returning to the party encampment.  This is a significantly better system than the usual “rest it off” solution experienced in most RPGs.     

Combat is tough, fast-paced, and brutal. The Top Down camera angle is a significant tactical dvantage in such situations.

Camera views are handled very well.  While most of the game is easiest to play from a third person perspective, you always have the ability to zoom out into a Baldur’s Gate-style top-down view.  This is most advantageous during combat situations, where a tactical view of the battlefield is crucial.  The Top Down view is a PC-only feature, and it is absolutely INVALUABLE.  I cannot imagine the game lacking the feature on platform versions.

Most impressive, however, is the replayability of Dragon Age: Origins.  The game world around your character changes drastically depending on factors as crucial as your origin to elements as seemingly insignificant as a dialogue choice in a merchant conversation.  This allows for a near-infinite number of plotline permutations, creating the most fully realized game world I’ve yet experienced in a single-player game.

      

Graphics

When the Darkspawn are horded together, the appearance is a bit derivative of the LOTR films.

Graphics can range from somewhat derivative standard fantasy images to the truly grandiose, grotesque, breathtaking and beautiful.  Character, armor, weapon, and creature designs are often very original in appearance, though when a Darkspawn army approaches I cannot help but think of WETA Workshop’s Uruks, orcs, and goblins from Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy.  Environments are, more often than not, incredibly done and original.  From human cities to Elven land-ships, abandoned Dwarven colonies, caverns, forests and high mountain peaks, everything seems to have a “used”, often gritty, sometimes pristine quality.  The color palette is earthy, grounded, yet vivid, harkening back to the days of the Infinity Engine RPs (and consequently the Baldur’s Gates).  Combat animation is simultaneously brutal and beautiful.  My only major graphical complaint occurred during the much advertised “sex scenes”, which were awkward at best and hilariously terrible at worst.  The “choreography” was so blocky and unnatural I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.  I’d have preferred for such scenes to take the form of a “fade to black” moment.  Additionally, occasional character facial expressions don’t quite match the tone of their intent (there is a scene where a character sings a lament, but it looks like her face smells an awkward passing of gas).  These are but minor complaints.  The majority of Dragon Age: Origins is magnificent to behold.     

However, scenes like this dusky dragon battle are nothing short of breathtaking...

Sound       

Bioware’s really upped the ante in the sound department with Dragon Age: Origins.  Not only has Inon Zur (composer of the original Baldur’s Gates) scored a beautiful and haunting soundtrack, but the battle effects, environmental sounds and voice-over work are rock solid all around.  As I mentioned in the Characters section, the voice cast is impressive.  Tim Curry, Kate Mulgrew and Claudia Black head an all-star cast that adds believability and emotional power to every character you encounter.  There’s a rumor that Bioware hired a different voice artist for each of the hundreds of NPCs in the game.  While I swear I’ve heard two or three instances of recycled talent, the majority of characters have distinct voices that truly add depth and realism to the gameworld.  This game may be the greatest aural achievement in video gaming yet.  Oh hyperbole.

 

Bugs     

There weren’t many bugs that I experienced within DA:O, especially considering that no patches were released during my playthrough.  The usual Bioware clipping issues are nowhere to be seen, and AI path finding is very good with few exceptions.  However, if you have an AMD processor like I do, there is a common problem that Bioware is working on fixing.  When playing the game for over half an hour at a time on a PC with an AMD processor, framerate decreases drastically even at lower resolutions and detail settings.  Load times also increase.  I didn’t mind all that much because it reminded me of the Baldur’s Gate days of CD swapping and Pentium 166 Mhz processors.  The problem’s easily fixable (save and restart), but still a bit annoying after the first few occurrences.       

 

Conclusion       

 
 

A glimpse of the final battle of the game...

Dragon Age: Origins is not simply an extraordinary game, it is a brilliant contribution to the fantasy genre itself.  Intuitive gameplay, sharp graphics, few bugs, and excellent sound contribute to the ultra-high quality of the game, but it is the story, characters, writing, and game world that will keep you coming back for more.  This is a brilliant game that deserves a place within the upper echelons of fantasy.  It’s as good if not better than Baldur’s Gate II.  Bravo, Bioware.  Bravo.       

      

In Short:       

Plot: 10/10       

Characters: 10/10       

Gameplay: 9.5/10       

Graphics: 9/10       

Sound: 10/10       

Overall: 10/10       

P$ dusts off his Wii and reviews Wii Sports Resort!

Posted in Video Games on July 30, 2009 by dparkhurst

It's back!

It's back!

The haters can no longer say it’s a gimmick!

I know who you are. You, like many, are tired of a gimmick “motion sensing” console that simply replaces a button with a wave from the remote. You want full immersion into your gaming experience. Picture yourself holding a Frisbee, and with every turn of your arm and wrist your character mimics your movement. Imagine holding a sword in your hand and you’re swinging your arms, attacking enemies as they move closer to your position. You then block their attacks by holding that sword close to your body. It’s been three years and Nintendo has finally accomplished this. Welcome to the Resort.

Wii Motion Plus brings a 1:1 response to the player’s movement and the movement on the screen. Back in 2006, Wii Sports had something like this. It was small, so if you missed it I wouldn’t blame you. Remember baseball? The 1:1 response came when you were up to bat. If you twirled the top of the Wii remote in a circle, like you would a real baseball bat, it would copy your motion. That was probably the coolest thing about baseball on Wii Sports… and baseball in real life. While the original Wii Sports was a wonderful game/demo of the Wii’s initial capabilities, it wasn’t exactly what fans had hoped for… even when we faked our excitement. (Who am I kidding? I was stoked!)

You start out on a plane miles above the island of Wuhu. You hear the pilot shout: “Get ready!” You press A, and out the cabin door you go, plummeting towards the island. As you’re free-falling you can perform flips and grab onto the other sky-divers. Every twist and flip you perform is executed by the Wii remote with help from the Wii Motion Plus. Every single movement you make is replicated on the screen to a T. There is no hesitation, nor lag.

I have just described mere minutes of what will likely turn into hours of gameplay. There are a total of twelve different game modes, including Archery, Swordplay, Frisbee, Basketball, Table Tennis, Golf, Bowling, and Air Sports. You will also unlock other activities within each sport. Each game plays smoothly. Your grandmother will want to pick up and play. The one gripe that I have is that single player mode is a bit shallow. It’s fun initially, but after a while you might get bored with the lack of competition. The AI does not compare to the unpredictability of an actual friend. So go make some. (Anyone up for a game… please?)

GAMEPLAY

  • Gameplay: Simple yet fun. The Wii Motion Plus adds depth to what would otherwise be shallow sport games.

I have broken down each game mode for you in a straight-to-the-point manner. Simply scroll down to the sport you’re interested in playing.

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You can be this awesome too!

Archery: This is probably one of my favorite sports in the game. You hold the Wii remote in your left hand like you would a bow and you hold the nun-chuck in your right as if it were the arrow. You pull back the nun-chuck while holding Z and you aim with the remote. Release the arrow with Z and you will hopefully hit the target. It feels great! You have to compensate for wind and distance just as you would if you were actually shooting an arrow. Thumbs up!

Frisbee: The hardest game in Wii Sports Resort. The Wii Motion Plus is so sensitive that you actually have to mimic the motion of turning your body to throw left or right. The remote will know if you’re sitting down since you won’t throw accurately, just as in real life. Thumbs up!

Wakeboarding: It’s a very simple game. You move your surfer left and right by mimicking the act of steering with your arms. When your Mii flies up from a wake you can perform a few basic tricks, but nothing too fancy. You then have to land correctly. Nothing too exciting… moving on. Thumbs down!

Basketball: Another hard game. Either the presenters at E3 had to be really good or they were just playing along to a pre-rendered video. This is another game that benefits from you actually standing up and jumping to make free-throws. If you swing your arms too hard you will whip the ball at the basket. If you release too early your ball will hit the rim. Even scoring one basket will be a big accomplishment. This game truly mimics reality. Personally, I am terrible at basketball and it shows. Thumbs up!

Table Tennis: This plays like an updated version of the original Wii Sports tennis. It’s a lot of fun and a tad faster than its predecessor. The game takes into account all of your wrist movements. Have fun with this one. Thumbs up!

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Swordplay: This is hands down the best multiplayer mode in the game. You hold the remote like you would a sword and you swing away. You block by holding B. It’s that easy. I now can’t wait to see what they will do in future titles. I’m looking at you, Ubisoft and Lucas Arts. Multiplayer is a blast! Most new players will just flail the remote around without trying to find an opening. This may have worked for boxing on the original Wii Sports, but no more! For those who hate playing with non-gamers because of this, you may now quit your bitching. I personally can’t wait to beat certain people. Thumbs up!

Golf: This is where the Wii Motion Plus shows its strength. Remember how frustrating the original game on Wii Sports was? This fixes every problem. It actually follows your movements when you bring the club back and forth! What a concept! This new version is better than the original. It’s also harder, since you can actually splice when you hit the golf ball. You have to re-center yourself if the remote senses any unnecessary body movement. For example, if you move your body left and right when you bring the club back you’re going to hit the ball that way. It’s awesome that they fixed the sensitivity problems… it sucks that I actually have to try now. Thumbs up!

Bowling: Nothing too cutting edge. You’ve played this before. The Motion Plus makes a small difference in gameplay. In general, it will increase the sensitivity to make the bowling experience more authentic. It’s virtually the same game with some fun extras. Thumbs up!

Power Cruising: This isn’t the most enjoyable experience in the game. It is reminiscent of Wave Race 64, except you steer with your remote and nun-chuck. You can speed up the cruiser by twisting your remote. It’s enjoyable when you’re racing friends, not so much when you’re playing alone. Pass. Thumbs down!

Canoeing: This game is loads of fun with friends; it’s not so fun playing alone (much like Power Cruising). You switch sides to steer and move your boat, much like in real life. Neither exciting nor interesting by yourself… seriously. Thumbs down!

Cycling: You move your arms up and down to pedal. Your bike will go faster or slower depending on how fast you move your arms. I honestly don’t understand why they put this in the game. You don’t actually have to steer the bike and if you try to steer it’s hard to get back on track. I suppose the race around the island isn’t too bad if you like a nice competition. Try it out for yourself and see what you think. I give it a thumbs down!

Air Sports: There are three different air sports. You can sky dive like you did in the intro to the game, fly an airplane around the island picking up information bubbles, and there is a dogfighting game that you can play with friends. You fly the plane by holding the remote like a paper airplane. It’s sort of relaxing and the admittedly useless information bubbles around the island are cute. The only gripe I have is that there is a time limit in the Island Flyover game. The dogfighting mode is fun, even if you are only shooting balloons. God forbid you shoot down the actual plane. I look forward to future flying titles.

GRAPHICS:

  • Everything flows well in this game and the graphics are easy on the eyes. It doesn’t push the capabilities of the Wii, but it keeps things easy for the casual crowd… that’s the point, right?

There has been a slight improvement in the graphics since Wii Sports. The style fits the gameplay, which is simple, but I honestly can’t complain. It looks pretty, especially when you fly around the island and take a look at the different sporting locations from above. Your Miis have their own world to play in. Plus, everything runs at a nice sixty frames per second.

SOUND:

  • A nice tropical theme. The music doesn’t get annoying and the sound effects are clean.

There are a wide variety of musical styles. The sound effects are crisp and you’ll enjoy the thwacks of hitting your friends with a wooden sword.

MULTIPLAYER:

  • Your Wii will once again become the center of focus at parties. Prepare for some late nights with friends.

This game will be the next big thing at parties. The casual and hardcore crowds will play this game together for hours. Whether you’re going head to head at swordplay or trying to beat each others’ scores at archery, you’re going to stay up all night playing this game.

WILL YOU COME BACK?:

  • YES! Your Wii’s processor may not sweat, but you will. You may even get sore from playing too much. There are just so many games and achievements within Wii Sports Resort. Your other consoles may get jealous.

I’ve been playing Wii Sports since I bought the system back in 2007. I have a feeling that I’ll be playing its sequel even longer. Nintendo has a way of making great games that keep people playing for years. (Mario Kart anyone?) Each sport will present you with the chance to reach pro status. Plus, there are achievement stamps that you can collect while playing each game. This game is just one of many gems that the company has made over the past 25 years. The re-playability is immense. You’ll be introducing your Wii to friends all over again.

CONCLUSION:

Nintendo has done it one more time with Wii Sports Resort. It doesn’t push the limits of the system in terms of graphics, but what it does have is a reason for you to pick the remote back up. If this is just a glimpse of what the Wii Motion Plus has to offer, then I am incredibly excited to see what the future holds for this system. Is it worth the fifty bucks? Definitely! Pick this game up. You’re not just getting a ton of content, but also an extension on the life of your console. You could pick up the Motion Plus extension by itself, but you would be missing out. This is a better deal than Wii Play which, while it was packaged with a remote, sucked. Wii Sports Resort comes with an excellent game, the Wii Motion Plus, and a new grip to put over the remote. Pick this game up today!

9.6 out of 10

1:1

1:1

Ikaruga

Posted in Video Games on July 7, 2009 by Scott

First, let me start with apologies for the lack of posting last week, things have been a touch crazy, but hopefully starting with this and tomorrow’s review, things will get back on track. Onwards to the game!

Ikaruga is a Japanese sh’mup that was released in 2001 to arcades, then released for Dreamcast, and eventually the Nintendo Gamecube. This is where i got my first taste of this brutal game. It has since been released on the Xbox Live Arcade, and this is what the following is based upon.

Ikaruga seems so simple; black vs. white. In essence, there are 2 colors of enemies, black and white, which fire bullets that match their color. Your ship is either black or white, and you have the ability to change it at will, with 2  very distinct advantages: first, you absorb bullets of the color of your ship, which in turn powers up your special attack, and you deal extra damage to the enemies of the opposite color. Simple enough right? Think again.

While it would seem that only having to worry about half of the projectiles on the screen at one time, one still needs to heed the position of enemy ship of both colors, as touching them will make your ship explode. The enemies are fast moving and sometimes unpredictable, but that is only part one of the challenge. Part two comes from the sheer number of bullets fired on screen at any one time. Players will often be taken aback as they look at the shots filling their screen, coming from all angles, closing in on your ship, only to be avoided by a deftly maneuvered turn, or a timely polarity flip. The game consists of 5 fairly short stages, each with a prologue, a title, and a boss battle. The player is graded on performance during each stage, based upon the number of enemies of the same polarity they killed in a row, the number of times the player died, as well as other things.

Those people who think this is strictly a shooting game are sadly mistaken, however the game may seem on the surface. I think it safe to say that the real challenge is becoming a “bullet-eater”, or finishing the game without shooting. Since you are able to absorb like colored bullets, players can progress through the stages as the enemies fly by them, arriving at the boss of the stage. There is a timer for each boss, and after the time is expired he wil fly away. This provides another strategy for those who have quicker reflexes than i to play with.

There is nothing wrong with this game. The graphics are stellar (no pun intended), the controls are simple, fly, shoot, and change polarity, and special attack all assigned to their own button. The length of the game, while it appears short, lends itself well to multiple plays (if you can finish it), and is just right to make you want more, but still be satisfied with what you got. The difficulty is way up there, but well worth the frustration. As this is an Xbox game, there are the requisite Achievements, which include killing the bosses, and achieving good stage grades, and these give you something to attempt to refine your technique for.

Pros:
-The graphics are killer for a 8 year old game.
-Multiple strategies with a simple interface.
-Very challenging.

Cons:
-Difficulty could be offputting to some.
-Only 5 levels, but at 800 Microsoft Points, ($10 USD) it is well worth it.

4.5/5

Video Game Review – Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir

Posted in Video Games on June 21, 2009 by DTB

SOZ Logo

You readers are probably used to my backstory rambling by now, so here’s another dose before the actual review.  I’m a CRPG lover.  Have been since Baldur’s Gate.  To me, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is still the best video game ever produced.  It’s the gold standard by which I judge all others, the 10/10 that’s never been touched.  From gameplay to graphics, plot, sound and replayability, BGII delivered an unparalleled gaming experience.  Its epic scope, extraordinary voicework, immersive plot and compelling characters made the game feel more like an incredibly well-written fantasy novel than a mere video game.  As the years have passed, there have been many Baldur’s Gate imitations like the Icewind Dale series, Planescape: Torment, the original Neverwinter Nights and its two expansions Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, and finally Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansions Mask of the Betrayer and now, Storm of Zehir.  One could easily infer that every single CRPG since BG has been influenced by it as well.

 I have to admit, the original NWN was a slight disappointment for me.  The true gems came from its Aurora toolset, which allowed players to craft their own campaigns.  A vast majority of fan content that I played was significantly better than the officially licensed campaigns created by Bioware.  When the NWN franchise switched hands to Black Isle (the creators of the Baldur’s Gate series) offshoot successor Obsidian Entertainment, my interest was piqued (Bioware was the other offshoot).  Though the game itself had some incredibly steep system requirements that were semi-disproportionate for the quality of graphics required, it was a true return to the epic storytelling of the Baldur’s Gates.  A phenomenal conversation system (taken from Knights of the Old Republic 2), excellent voice-over work, an interesting spin on the typical “hero’s journey” and compelling plot came together to form the closest thing to BG2 I’d yet played.  Unfortunately, the inability to travel with more than three other characters, buggy gameplay and recycled NWN music prevented the game from reaching true greatness.  Its first expansion, Mask of the Betrayer, was an interesting exploration into a rather underdeveloped area of the Forgotten Realms.  It fixed certain gaming issues common in NWN2 but lacked a compelling plot.

 Enter Storm of Zehir, which feels more like an entirely different game than an expansion pack.  Its plot is lighter, its color palette brighter, and the overall feel is more swashbuckling than epic.  Storm of Zehir is a CRPG of sheer fun and surprising humor.  So buckle your swashes, draw your swords and prepare for my review of the most singularly summery of Forgotten Realms-set CRPGs.

 Plot

Storm of Zehir ditches the rags-to-riches hero’s journey clichéd fantasy epic origin story that’s been the standard plot for virtually every single fantasy RPG.  Instead, you start out on a ship with a group of four adventurers of your own creation.  A brief tutorial ensues as you interact with the ship’s crewmembers (and continues whenever you encounter a new game feature).  Upon confirmation of your four party members, the ship is swept up in a storm and crashes upon the banks of Samarach, a hostile, xenophobic human nation.  My party consisted of a Human Ranger (my main character), a Sun Elf Favored Soul (my healer), a very short Human Rogue and a Half-Elf Wizard.  I almost always play a Paladin and wanted to try something different.  Lacking a truly brawny “tank” type character, I wanted to challenge myself a bit with the party. 

Samarach is a bright green jungle with enormous plants

Samarach is a bright green jungle with enormous plants

Once discovered by the soldiers of Samarach (who arrest your party), your character is rescued by a powerful merchant named Sa’Sani.  She had hired the ship your party was sailing on and asks for your assistance.  Thus begins your adventure…uncovering what went wrong with the shipwreck, revealing corruption within the merchant organization, establishing yourself as a valuable member of Sa’Sani’s cartel and exploring anywhere and everywhere within a vast, colorful and dynamic fantasy world.

 While not as darkly epic as the Baldur’s Gates (where your character is dealing with severe daddy issues…you’re the son of Bhaal, former God of Murder), or as sweepingly urgent as NWN2 (where a portion of the game involves preparing a castle for a massive siege), expanding a gigantic merchant organization is a great deal of fun and adds a deeper level of strategy to the way you play the game.  Sub-plots and sidequests are well-written and enjoyable, often venturing beyond the usual “fetch” quests that most RPG gamers despise.  Character development isn’t nearly as deep as in past Obsidian titles, but I actually liked that I wasn’t worrying about party members leaving if I ticked them off too much (or backstabbing me during the final confrontation like 2 characters did in the NWN2 campaign…I can still hear their dying screams).  This reduced character development lent itself to the more light-hearted plot and in no way detracted from my gaming experience.

 Overall, the sunnier plot and enjoyable quests created a world less dangerous and more fun than previous Forgotten Realms game installments.  However, the game deals with the emergence of a new God and foreshadows the coming doom of the Spellplague (an event that occurs soon after the game ends and changes the world of the Forgotten Realms forever).  Including this foreshadowing was a brilliant move on Obsidian’s part.  They also toss in a few very surprising plot twists, each of which I had to re-read the dialogue for several times.

 Gameplay

Storm of Zehir has had some significant gameplay improvements over its NWN2 predecessors.  First up is the character creation system, which allows the player to create from scratch four members of their party.  The increase in maximum party size to six characters (five without a special feat) is also a vast improvement over the 4 character cap of previous installments.  This allows for a more diversified combination of abilities and skills within your party, as the plentiful in-game companions are also valuable options to include. 

Every highlighted character on this screen can be a member of your party.  Mix and match at your own risk.

Every highlighted character on this screen can be a member of your party. Mix and match at your own risk.

As I had previously mentioned in my first impressions post, another changed aspect of Storm of Zehir is the World Map.  Obsidian replaced the good ole’ “click on a location and encounter a random band of enemies in transit” map system of most RPGs with an Overland Map.  The Overland Map is a zoomed-out gameworld where you actively move your party from location to location.  Depending upon the skills and feats of your primary selected character, you can avoid wandering monsters, find hidden treasure, encounter friendly patrols and sneak up on enemies for surprise attacks.  While my Overland Map skills were abysmal when I started playing Storm of Zehir, I absolutely fell in love with it after a little bit of practice. 

Overland map of the Sword Coast North.  It's a great way to get around.

Overland map of the Sword Coast North. It's a great way to get around.

The new trading system is fantastic.  Once you establish your merchant company, you may create trading posts in different towns, start trade routes between cities and collect your profits.  Profits can then be either invested into your company or traded in for cold hard cash.  It’s a great way to make money and a lot of fun to micromanage.

 Conversations were also changed.  Rather than using the KOTOR-inspired cinematic conversation system from NWN2, Storm of Zehir opts to use text boxes similar to the original NWN.  However, all members of the party partake in conversations.  Characters have different response options based on class, skills, alignment or race which really flavors each dialogue within the game.  While there is not much character development within the party, the conversation system gives each party member their own voices and adds to the player’s immersion in the game.  I still wish they could have worked these options into the film-like KOTOR-style conversation system.

 New classes include the aptly titled Swashbuckler and the two Prestige Classes of Doomguide and Hellfire Warlock.  After some time, I decided to multiclass my ranger into a Swashbuckler/Ranger, which actually turned out to be a REALLY fun idea (with all his equipment, he looked like a purple cloaked cross between D’Artagnon and Robin Hood).  Tweaks were also made to the crafting system, new races were added, as were new spells and new feats.  Overall, the gameplay was a real improvement over the previous NWN2 titles, with the non-cinematic conversations the only real let-down. 

May I present D'Artagnon of Locksley

May I present D'Artagnon of Locksley

Graphics

While not earth-shatteringly impressive, the somewhat dated NWN2 graphics are brighter and bolder than in past series titles.  New face options for characters, fantastic spell effects, frightening adversaries and some beautiful environments ensure that the game still looks good (but not jaw-droppingly amazing).  The Overland Map is fun and stylized, but almost reminds me a little too much of 2002’s Warcraft III.  Graphics are perhaps Storm of Zehir’s weakest area…but the game’s good enough that it doesn’t matter. 

At this castle I shall build peasants.  I need a barracks to build my footmen.

At this castle I shall build peasants. I need a barracks to build my footmen.

Sound

WE FINALLY GET NEW MUSIC!!!!  Where previous NWN2 installments recycled themes from the original NWN, Storm of Zehir gives us a lush new score.  I’m absolutely grateful for this.  Voicework, unfortunately, is a little weak.  As a trained performer (I did just receive a B.M. in voice performance, which is just as much about using one’s speaking voice as it is about singing), the work of several characters (especially Sa’Sanni’s voice-over artist) was just sub-par.  The actors for previous installments all did fine jobs, but the voice-over work in Storm of Zehir was mediocre at best.  As for regular sound effects…they were fantastic as always.  Forgotten Realms games don’t generally get any marks taken off for basic sound.

 Bugs

Storm of Zehir is the most bug-free of the NWN series I’ve played.  I only encountered one bug.  I couldn’t access an exit from a room because the carcasses of fallen comrades were in my way.  Shouldn’t I be able to climb over them or something?

 Conclusion:

Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir is one of the best expansions I’ve played.  Refining and changing an already great game into a truly shining one, it provides massive amounts of dungeon-crawling, dragon-slaying, swashbuckling, sword-fighting, magic wielding fun.  A light-hearted and enjoyable plot, vastly improved gameplay, great music, few bugs and decent (yet dated) graphics are tempered only by lackluster voice-over work and a loss of cinematic scope.  Storm of Zehir is the perfect compliment to my “best movies to watch in the summer” article, as it may very well be the perfect summer RPG.  Filled with buckets of sheer gaming fun, Storm of Zehir is easily an 8.5/10 in my book (add an extra .5 if you know what a kobold is).  I cannot WAIT to see what Obsidian cooks up next (and with the effects of the Spellplague…can I please hope for a Baldur’s Gate III?)!  If you already have NWN2, Storm of Zehir is definitely worth the investment.  If you don’t and you’re a self-respecting RPG fan, you probably should go get them both!  So sayeth the wise Alaundo.  Necca out.

And they all disappear beyond the horizon, capes billowing gallantly in the breeze...
And they all disappear beyond the horizon, capes billowing gallantly in the breeze…

Note: All screenshots were taken from my playthrough of  Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir, which is a property of Atari and Obsidian Entertainment.  I am in no way profiting from their use in this article.

The Sims 3

Posted in Video Games on June 20, 2009 by snickerdoodle85

Sims_3_logo

I wasn’t planning on buying the Sims 3 anytime soon since I was content with 2 but I saw 5 commericials last night and I finally broke down and decided to try it. By try it, I mean pay 50 bucks to buy it.

sims-3

Negative aspects of the game:

UPDATE! Sims creation: I lied about character creation, I did not explore it enough. You can customize every detail. Yay!

Time: Also, okay I know a lot of people had problems with The Sims, The Sims 2 and the Time aspect. Everyone used to complain that some things like going to the bathroom took forever and you had to do them constantly, leaving little time to do much else. Well, things are a little different now.  They eat more quickly, they shower and use the bathroom at about the same time but much less often. That is all well in good but here are the kickers! You have to wait forever for them to sleep! Obviously that wouldn’t be a big deal if you were taking care of a family of Sims but if you start off by playing one Sim, it is incredibly boring. I’m warning you now. Ohhh that isn’t even all! Even worse, (but had the potential to be cool) is that you go to work with them. You don’t see what they are doing though, you are standing outside telling them what to do. This also takes an eternity! I sat there twiddling my thumbs, looking at Sim hospital for potentially almost 15 minutes waiting for them to get done work.The worst part is, and I actually thought the game was broken because this happened but the “fast forward” barely made time go by more quickly. They force you to stick with consistent time, perhaps for better time management? Either way it can get frustrating.

Objects: If you are looking for like 2 dozen sets of couches, tables, etc when you get this game think again. It comes with all the necessary furniture and stuff but not a lot of options. I assume they are doing this to get you to buy expansions *yippee* and also use their online store.

Online store: Sort of useful, though right now they barely have any content that you can buy.

Clothing: My last disappointment is that there are no clothing stores in your town. You can just automatically change your clothing by going to your dresser. Everything in your inventory will be there. Which, yeah that is easier but I actually enjoyed shopping for clothes.

Sims3

Positive aspects of the game:

Personality: I love the fact that you can give them 5 different aspects of personality. You can use your personality special powers in a conversation. It gives you extra things to do or say.

Randomization of objects, this is kind of cool because it’ll show you different colors and patterns with the objects so you usually get something unique.

The town/jobs: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that you have total control over the town you live in. You can zoom out and click where you want to go. You actually need to go grocery shopping this time around, which is neat.  Even more cool though is that you can take classes and increase skills, or you can get a part-time job at one of the companies. You actually get to choose what job you want, for the most part.

The graphics are prettier, and smoother. It can take some getting used to the controls, I actually changed some settings just because I’m picky.

Dialogue: You have a lot more interesting dialogue with other Sims. You can see what they think about you and you can learn things about the other Sim. For example if your girl want to get married and have a family you have to make sure your partner is interested in those things. Also, you have to work harder to get someone to fall for you. I like that more, it’s a challenge.

Cooking: You can prepare interesting meals, for example if you have eggs and apples you can make apple pancakes. There are all sorts of recipes you can learn. I would tell you about dinner but unfortunately my Sim is a trauma surgeon and works 10pm-3:00am so she sleeps through dinner.

Real world experiences: Another cool but challenging thing! You can be on call, I literally worked 10pm-3:00am came home and slept for 5 hours and got called into work.

Alright that is mostly what I have from the few hours I played it but overall it isn’t a bad game. It can be fun if you get used to it. I like how they tried to add more real life situations into the mix.

If you’re a die hard Sims or Sims 2 fan I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, it’ll just take some getting used to. I would recommend it as an addictive, time waster to anyone else!

7/10

LetThereBeSims

E3 and some other thoughts from P$

Posted in Uncategorized, Video Games on June 19, 2009 by dparkhurst

Just some quick thoughts about E3 and the future of gaming.

Yoshi

YES!!!

E3 has come and gone. We’ve had another year of some surprises and some upsets. This year’s E3 was no different. There were some pretty cool games that were announced: Left for Dead 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, a sequel to Halo, Red Steele 2 a new Metal Gear Solid game. It was a pretty solid show for every company.

I am not going to lie though, I’m pretty excited for the new God of War game: God of War 3. A game that looks so badass that it doesn’t even need a subtitle. It will be release next year so if you haven’t had the chance to play the other two God of War games, get at it. You’re missing out on two action packed, gore filled games with a wonderful story. Plus if you’re into Greek mythology you should get a kick out of it.

One of the more interesting announcements was Microsoft’s new “project natal” camera system.

Lets hope you have a big enough room.

Lets hope you have a big enough room.

It’s a camera that captures the player’s entire body and replays their motions on the screen. So if you’re playing a driving game and you mimic turning the car to the right, the car will actually turn. The same thing happens when you push your foot on the imaginary accelerator. If you’re playing a fighting game and you throw some kicks and punches the camera will pick up your movement and you will (hopefully) deliver some blows to your adversary. Understand the picture? It sounds awesome and recent impressions have stated that it works. I mean, I would assume that it would at E3. We will have to wait to see what happens when we get our hands on some actual games. I am hopeful for what lies ahead.

Nintendo had a better year at E3. They couldn’t really go anywhere but up from E3 2008, so it’s a start. Last year Nintendo gave us just a glimpse of the new Wii motion-plus add on for the Wii remote. I didn’t believe it was anything crazy at the time. It was more of an “about time” feeling that I got from the event. E3 09 added to the hype with a better demo of Wii Sports Resort. There is a whole array of different games plus some old classics like golf and bowling. From what I know, bowling and golf seem to be a lot better with the new controls. At the same time they were a blast in 06 so an enhanced version of those sports will be a huge welcome to the casual (and dare I say hardcore) community. We will all get our chance to play Wii Sports Resort when it is released next month in the US.

New Super Mario Brothers 2 is shaping up to be one hell of a game. It’s classic 2d platforming but adds chaos to mix with the option to play with friends. If you’re not too sure what I’m talking about just think of the original Super Mario game but with three other friends playing at the same time. So far it seems that you will only be able to play as Mario, Luigi and two toad characters.  It’s too bad you can’t play as Peach, but then again, Peach is pretty useless. Remember her DS outing? Super Princess Peach DS

She used her emotions as weapons.

Typical

Typical

So where are we going with gaming? Microsoft and SONY are diving into the world of motion sensing games. It wasn’t too long ago when both companies scoft at Nintendo’s idea to include Mom, Dad, and Grandma to the table. So what’s the deal? I would have to argue that Nintendo has really changed the landscape for developers and gamers alike. Can we really claim that the Wii is just some gimmicky console when their competators  are copying their formula for success? I guess that will be for another post.

Until next time folks,

Dave P$