Monday, December 21, 2009

Dragon Age: Origins (PS3)

Full disclosure first: I didn't finish this game. In fact, at about 60% of the way through the story line, I sold it to the local game shop and used my credit for a copy of Borderlands. Why? Because I just can't stand Dragon Age.

Where to begin? Well, we'll get the technical stuff out of the way. On the PS3 at least, it's glitchy as all hell. There were graphical artifacts at every turn, with textures popping in and out; characters self-clip constantly (especially if they're wearing armor or facial hair). Particularly annoying is a discontinuity in the camera's ability to circle the selected character: as you rotate the camera, it skips from about 350° to 0°. Very annoying. The graphics are gorgeous, mind you; just filled with distracting glitches.

Dialog audio was full of holes as well. Thanks to the 3D sound processing, combined with camera angles, the engine would occasionally decide that the dialog was being delivered from 1000 yards away, or from behind a foot-thick tapestry. Meaning that important plot points in dialog were muffled or totally inaudible. So I turned on the subtitles... which inhabit a giant box at the top of the screen (hence, not actually "sub"), distracting me completely from the imagery on the screen. Oh, and all dialog is unskippable.

Save times are also exceedingly long. Between selecting save, and having control returned to you, at least ten seconds elapses. Given that frequent saving is about the only way to make progress, those ten seconds add up pretty quickly. I'm pretty certain I spent a total of one hour of my life staring at a filigreed box telling me "Saving game content. Do not turn off your system."

Then there's the godawful party AI. It's like controlling a whole party of Leeroy Jenkins. Unlike previous Bioware RPGs, combat takes place in real time. And while you can pause the game to issue orders, there's no indication (or auto-pause) when those orders have been completed--the moment you relinquish control, they return to their AI scripts. So you might pause the game and tell your tank to attack your target, but the moment you switch away he has a better than average chance of running off after some monster three hundred yards away, leaving your poor mage to deal with the dragon on her own.

The game allows you to tweak the AI scripts in meticulous detail, based on a system of triggers and actions. But there's so much customization allowed that there's basically no good way to figure out what the ideal settings should be. Trial and error, perhaps. But I didn't have the patience for it. And the defaults are just horrible.

But the technical issues aren't what killed this game for me. I can forgive a lot of technical issues in a game this big. What killed it for me was the tedium.

Every quest goes on forever, with sub-quest after sub-quest. Every dungeon goes on forever. Every time I'd walk up to the big, obvious, central door, I'd think, "Okay, the boss has to be in there." And then I'd be rewarded with another section of dungeon just as long as the one I'd just finished. Every dungeon was easily twice as long as it should have been.

And it's all combat. Aside from a few pitifully easy riddles (to which the answer was "dreams" about 10% of the time), there are precious few puzzles to be solved. And every time you think there might be a diplomatic solution to a situation, it turns out that the character in question request that you go off and kill somebody else--who lives, I promise you, at the end of another inanely long dungeon. And all of this combat is made frustrating and infuriating by the aforementioned party AI. The game is pretty good at not making you backtrack, though. I'm thankful for that.

Every time you arrive at a new destination with the intention of enlisting their aid in the upcoming war, you discover their castle/tower/forest/city is infested with undead/demons/werewolves/civil unrest. And then, after you remove their problem, you get to talk to the Grand High Puba of that vicinity... who assigns you another fetch quest (with laboriously long dungeon). You'd think ridding their home of skeletons would be sufficient, you know?

In a similar vein, the setting is painfully, atrociously derivative. It's a nearly-pure mix of Tolkien and D&D. Dwarves are smiths and miners, who live underground and can't be mages; elves live in the woods, and are in tune with nature; humans live in towns, and generally don't get it. There are talking trees. The only twists I found are that once, long ago, elves were enslaved by humans (and so are now second-class citizens); and, mages are carefully controlled and regulated by the church. Other than that, I found myself wondering about THAC0 scores and when we'd be taking the ring to Mount Doom.

Now, the game does many things particularly well. The writing is top-notch, with the banter between party members being downright interesting. I especially like a system whereby you can influence your party's regard for you by giving them gifts (in addition to the standard reactions to your game choices). Get their approval high enough, and they'll reveal more about their backstory... or sleep with you. Sadly, I was unable to initiate a lesbian affair between my character and Morrigan. But I did get an elf assassin to flirt with me. The overall campaign plot is kind of cliche, but the individual characters you encounter, and their stories and motivations, are original and excellent. All of this is voice acted especially well, with practically the whole cast of Star Trek: Voyager involved.

Dragon Age is also suitably epic. Before I gave up, I'd logged nearly 30 hours of playtime. And I didn't do any sidequests (for fear of encountering more obnoxiously long dungeons). So if you want something you can really sink your teeth into, then this could be your game.

The combat system itself is quite decent (AI gripes aside), with excellent balance. I played a mage, and never had a problem holding my own in battle. My only real complaint there is that about 60% of the available spells are completely bloody useless. But Dragon Age is hardly unique in having lots of pointless spells.

So how do I feel about the game overall? I wanted, very much, to like it. I tried really, really hard. But it wore me down. When it's 5 hours between notable accomplishments, grinding through lame battle after seen-it-already fight, it's hard for me to stay motivated. The game very quickly began feeling like work, which is not what I want when playing a game.

Now, Dragon Age has its fans. My brother's one of them. And I can see why they might love it: the story is epic and the characters interesting. So you might like it better than I have. But ultimately, I just couldn't take any more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Look, there's only the most marginal of reasons to write this review. You already have Modern Warfare 2. This game has sold 4.6 million copies in the UK and US as of yesterday evening, according to NPR. You already have an opinion.

But let's pretend you don't. Let's pretend you actually give a fuck about what I say here.

First off, the campagin is short. Very, very short. If you're a single-player-only kind of person, this isn't the game for you. The campaign isn't even nugget-sized; it's like one of those KFC popcorn chicken things they make out of leftover batter drippings with four molecules of chicken at the center.

The campaign isn't bad, mind you. The combat scenarios are totally passable. It's got its share of powerful melodrama, epic battles for the survival of the world as we know it, and plenty of unexpected twists. It's just that all of it's packed into about four or five hours. You barely begin to have some sympathy for a player character before they kill him off in some tear-jerking scripted event. I believe you go through at least three different characters, maybe four. Despite its brevity and slightly schizophrenic feel, the campaign does have some interesting moments.

When you boot up the game for the first time, a box pops up and asks if you're okay with some objectionable content. Doesn't say what it is, just asks if you want it to censor itself (at no penalty to you, the player). I told it I had a heart of stone and to let me through. So it popped up another box saying, "Are you sure you wanna see some horrific shit? This is the last time we're gonna ask." To which I replied, "Uh, I'm a gamer. Ain't nothing you can show me I ain't seen before." Which, I'm happy to report, is untrue. Infinity Ward managed to make me feel quite uncomfortable during the referenced mission.

The gist of it is this: your character is implanted, undercover, with a terrorist organization. The mission opens with you and three other dudes riding an elevator, decked out in body armor, carrying light machine guns. And then you step out of the elevator at the security checkpoint of an airport. The mission objective is simply "Follow Makarov's lead." Makarov proceeds to open fire on the mass of civilians. So, if you're to follow his lead, you do too. It feels downright icky, frankly... the civilians scream, run away, shield their loved ones with their bodies, and plead for their lives. And in true COD-style, they don't immediately fall into a motionless heap the moment they're shot. No, many of them drag themselves along the ground, leaving a trail of blood behind them. So it's incumbent upon you to shoot them again. If you're the sort of person who can't bring yourself to play the dark side in a Star Wars game, tell that boot-time box that you want the censorship. Personally, I was pleased to find that a game managed to arouse any sort of emotion whatsoever in my jaded, shriveled heart.

Ickiness aside, there are a couple of other moments that are neater and less gut-wrenching. One mission I particularly liked was right after an EMP burst is set off above the battlefield. Suddenly the world is quiet, and quite dark. You have no night vision, no radio, minimal HUD, and all of your advanced electronic gunsights stop functioning. A very neat idea, made even more neat by the geographic setting of that series of missions. A location I'm not going to reveal, since the game's so damn short that it needs all of the shock value and surprise it can get.

So the single-player campaign is like one of those cubical Snickers bars you get on Halloween. But how about multiplayer? Isn't that what Modern Warfare is really about?

Well, it's okay. It's basically the same as the first game's multiplayer, but with a few minor differences.

First, the maps are better than the first game. There's really only one dud in the whole roster, in my opinion. There are a couple I don't like; but those don't seem to have structural issues. But the map titled "Wasteland" is boring, and always devolves into either endless hunt and seek or a dogpile in the middle tunnel area. Just twenty-four hours after launch, and it invariably collects a handful of votes to skip each time it comes up. People aren't tired of it; they just don't like it.

The rest of the maps are a good mix, though. And other than mentioned above, none of them have the failings of the previous game's maps: namely, repetitive chokepoints. It seemed like in MW1, on each map, there was one particular area (that two story house, that crashed helicopter, those two buildings overlooking the airplane, those stairs down to the market) where all of the battle took place. You could be pretty certain of finding some action if you just ran there after your spawn. I haven't seen anything like that developing in MW2; the battle shifts all over the map.

What I'm less thrilled about this time around is the character customization system. The perk system (little rule-changing additions to your character), if anything, has been scaled back and blunted. And as a result, everybody chooses the same perks. It seems like everybody uses Sleight of Hand, which allows for faster reloads; Bling, which allows two weapons attachments; and Stopping Power, for greater damage. The point of the perk system, in the first game, was for variety in your opposition. This time around, there's little variety, because there's one or two clear "best" perks in each category.

I do like the addition of selectable and unlockable kill streak rewards. However, most of the additional rewards come at very high streaks, meaning I never get to use them--my highest streak is only 8. And some of the higher streak rewards are real game breakers: the helicopter gunner reward, for instance, pretty much guarantees you'll kill the other team twice each before it runs out. Since the rewards are granted for multiple kills without dying, they're granted to the best players. They often turn a close game into a massacre, which seems like a poor way to encourage fun.

Also, for a game that claims to be ultra-realistic, there are a couple of details that are wrong and drive me crazy. The first is that their stealth bomber sounds like a jetliner. That's utter bullshit. A stealth bomber is spookily silent as it flies overhead. I know; they used to fly over my place back in Springfield, MO all the time. If you didn't happen to look up at the right time, you didn't see them. Because they make no discernible noise to draw your attention.

Similarly, an ACOG gunsight is not an electronic device, relying instead on ambient light or a tritium lamp. That's one of its strongest selling points: it doesn't need batteries. So, why does an EMP render it dark? An EMP fries electronics, not fiber optics or tritium.

All that said, Modern Warfare, both iterations, is the only online FPS that I've played for any length of time since the original Counter Strike. But what does it matter what I have to say about it? You already bought a copy.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Demon's Souls: Battle Log

I beat my second boss. My game timer is at something like 8 hours. I've played the same level at least 20 times. I watched YouTube videos about how to beat that boss. And then I worked out my own strategy involving 100 arrows, about twenty minutes of patient battle, and a conveniently positioned parapet.

This was not a matter of hitting the glowing red spot with the appropriate item (gained in the level!). This was not a matter of memorizing the attack pattern. Or of twitching fast enough. It sure as fuck wasn't a matter of wading into battle, mashing buttons, and dealing more damage than I absorbed. This is the first time I can remember beating a seemingly-impossible boss by thinking, "What would I do when confronted by a 30 foot tall knight?"

I'd hide my ass where he couldn't get to me and pepper him with arrows until he died of internal bleeding, that's what I'd do. And that's what I did.

And I had fun working it all out. As frustrating as it was to die over and over again, it was made tolerable by an excellent decision on the part of the designers.

You don't have to watch any goddamn cutscene before fighting the boss. Okay, that's not quite right. The first time I fought him, there was a ten or fifteen second cutscene that showed me the layout of the room and the secondary threat (a bunch of archers; whom you should take out first). But every subsequent time I entered the knight's tower, there wasn't so much as a moment of transition. So instead of having to watch half a minute of "isn't he scary and full of polygons" intro each time I walked in, it was straight to the fight.

On the other hand, the fucking targeting system is driving me downright batty. In order to target an enemy, he must be fully exposed. And by fully exposed, I mean that he's fully exposed to the camera, not to your character. So if you spot a guy's arm sticking out as he lays in ambush, there's no effective way to target him. Furthermore, the range is restricted to something like fifteen meters from your character to acquire a lock--but an enemy can be probably a hundred meters away before the lock is broken. The autoselection of the next target is also somewhat weird--it never seems to target the closest guy, but rather the guy closest to the center of the screen.

Relatedly, there's no way to walk backwards with your shield up without that you've locked on to somebody. This is really annoying if, say, you walk through a door to find half a dozen guys waiting for you. Sure, your shield's up... but you can't retreat without turning around and exposing your back. And since the door jamb, door, and wall are between you and your enemies, at least partially obscuring them, locking on can often be quite difficult.

In most games, these targeting foibles would be simply annoying. In Demon's Souls, they're fucking fatal. When many enemies can slaughter you in two or three unblocked hits, it's unforgivable that you can't retreat with your shield raised unless you happen to beat the targeting system into submission. I once died because the camera locked onto, of all things, a goddamn unreachable set-piece dragon flying overhead... instead of one of the two knights standing in front of me.

But the lock-on system is the first real flaw I've found in this game. Unfortunately, it's pervasive and supremely annoying.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

First Impressions of Demon's Souls

[This isn't a full review. This game is definitely going to take me a while to finish. So I'm going to review it in stages.]

If you have a PS3, and crawled out from under your rock at least a week ago, you've heard about Demon's Souls. It's an action RPG developed by From Software (who also did Armored Core: for Answer).

This game's main claim to fame is that it's hard. Oldschool hard. Battletoads, Contra hard. A lot has been said about this already, so I'll just link you to my favorite analysis from gamasutra. Go ahead and read that link, because I'm not going to bother to explain the mechanics of the game when it's already been done so well. I'll wait for you.

Finished? Great. My impressions of this game after about three hours of play:

The difficulty is not the kind I was expecting. The game doesn't demand that you have ridiculous reflexes; it just demands that you take it seriously. This isn't WoW, and you don't advance by charging into battle mashing buttons. You do advance by carefully inching forward, fighting one guy at a time, choosing the right weapon for the battle, and listening to the wisdom of previous players. For me, this is refreshing, since it's how I play games anyway. It's a game that requires patience above all things; so it doesn't surprise me that the pro reviewers with deadlines, and 14 year olds with ADD, find this game punishingly difficult.

Combat hurts. I physically wince every time somebody hits me. Each sword strike means using a scarce healing item at least, and losing hours of gameplay at most. For instance, I'm writing this right now because some sort of huge spider boss killed me within about ten seconds of entering its room. This was after I spent an hour working my way to its lair. I'd need to spend at least ten or fifteen minutes, and fight several formidable foes, in order to try again. Doing a little writeup sounded far less stressful.

Because believe you me, the game is stressful. Each corner I turn, shield raised, causes a little heart palpitation. Each new enemy, anxiety. Each fight, terror. Each death, despair.

And it should be stressful. The whole point of an RPG is to get into the head of a character, and this is the very first computer RPG to get me to do that--and it's done it in just a couple hours.

I mean, if I handed you a rapier and a buckler, and told you to go through that door and kill an eighty foot spider... wouldn't you be scared? Wouldn't you give me the finger as you made haste for less hazardous environs? That's pretty much how I feel about that spider boss at the moment.

Some things annoy me.

There's no pause. Press start, and you get a menu overlayed on top of the live game. I found this out at an inopportune moment. It's acceptable, overall, since quitting and returning drops you back into the same spot with the same game state. And it definitely adds to the immersion, since you're never safe unless you're actually safe. But it's still inconvenient if, say, somebody comes to the door or the cats are fighting.

Weapons are scarce. Enemies don't drop them. There is no equivalent to chests or boxes, so you don't find weapons littered about. The merchants I've found so far don't even sell the starting weapons for all the classes. This sucks, since I want a spear, and can't find one. In a game so intent on making me feel like I'm really crawling a dungeon, why can't I pick over the equipment of my vanquished foes?

If your network connection hiccups, the game automatically quits. You can start it right back up, but it's really damn annoying.

The vocabulary of messages you leave for other players is only barely acceptable. Most dangers can be indicated. But it's impossible or difficult to convey any sort of tactic or strategy. There is no vocabulary for: "the AI pathfinding doesn't know to walk around the railing, so trap him in the corner and pummel him."

On the other hand, and I never thought I'd say this, I'm totally thrilled that there's absolutely no story to speak of. I mean, there's a setup and backstory for the world. But there's no developing plot. I never feel the need to rush, since the thing I'm enjoying is the thing I'm already doing.

And before you think the lack of a story is a bad thing, really think about it. The point of playing Contra is to play the game. The game itself is fun, from the first level all the way through the end (that I never reached). If Contra inserted a MGS4-length cutscene after each level, you'd merely view the levels as barriers to seeing the next piece of your movie. Like a soap opera fan forced to solve differential equations before being allowed to see the next installment of All My Children.

But without even a shred of a story, Demon's Souls allows me to savor the gameplay. Your experience of the gameplay becomes the story. For the first time since I played Dungeons and Dragons, I really feel like an RPG is about me.

You wanna know what happens in Demon's Souls?

Lemme tell you about this time I killed like five of these really tough orc things, at the same time, by herding them into a lava pit with my halberd...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (PS3)

I loved the hell out of Rainbow Six: Las Vegas. It was excellent. An FPS for the thinking man. Slow, stealthy, methodical work was rewarded. And if you simply charged into battle, you were invariably slaughtered. So when I saw Vegas 2 for $20 at WallyWorld, I snapped that shit right up.

I'm terribly disappointed.

The basic formula is the same as the first game: you're the leader of a three-person assault team. You're responsible not only for the standard FPS fair, but also for commanding your teammates.

You indicate commands using the X button (on PS3). If you point the crosshairs at the ground or a cover object when you press X, your team moves to that position. If you aim at a door and press X, your teammates "stack up" beside the door in preparation to storm and clear the room. Press X while aiming at a bomb or similar plot device, and they'll go tinker with it.

This works really well in the first game. You can push forward through a space by commanding your team to cover, then leapfrogging past them while they cover you. Room clearing is a blast, as your team will open the door and toss grenades (flash or frag) before storming the room.

Unfortunately, they broke it horribly in Vegas 2. The controls are the same. You have roughly the same options. And yet your team's AI is so downright retarded as to be nearly worthless.

At one point, I was working my way through a parking garage. On the ground was a puddle of water and a parking cone. Both of my teammates walked through the puddle, touched the cone, and became completely stuck. None of my commands to follow me, nor to take a specific position, seemed to work: they just stood there doing the chicken dance. Only by telling them to move to a point about six inches away, and five minutes of bread-crumbing their way, did I manage to get them moving again. This happened routinely.

A vastly more annoying problem is your team's behavior while they're following you. They're constantly sticking themselves out around corners, exposing themselves to enemy fire and ruining your element of surprise. Similarly, on several occasions that I was crouched below a waist-high window, planning my next move, they broke the glass and jumped into the room only to stand there while the tangos rained bullets on them. Perhaps "follow" means something different in the tactical world, but I was pretty sure it meant "stay the fuck behind me", not "take any random position within fifteen feet of me."

The only place the AI worked consistently was in room clearing. Otherwise, I found it far more practical to just leave them hanging back and clear areas myself. This is unacceptable in a game whose most basic premise is realistic tactical planning and teamwork.

Even putting aside the AI, there are huge programming flaws throughout the game. The most annoying is the terrible sound programming. To start with, character voices are mixed so low as to be inaudible--and they frequently overlap with radioed briefing info, rendering both incomprehensible. Of course, if the voice in question is some whimpering civilian, you'll be able to hear him literally throughout the whole level. And, your character's voice is mixed so loud that anything she (or he) says drowns out nearly all other sound in the environment.

Gunshots and explosions often make dull "thud" sounds instead of their regular sound effect. This is obviously some attempt at realistic muffling, as it sounds fine most of the time. But occasionally, the system will decide that sounds should be muffled even if the only thing between you and the shooter is a potted plant. It's kind of disorienting to have a string of automatic gunfire go from deafeningly loud to nearly silent just because you duck back behind a corner.

In a synergetic clusterfuck, the physics and the sound conspire to annoy the crap out of you on a regular basis. The way this usually happens is that some lightweight item (a box or a tin can) gets trapped in the level geometry, vibrating wildly. This vibration then causes an endless, rapid-fire string of "thuds", "thumps", and "tinks". Which, naturally, is mixed so loud as to drown out gunfire.

These sorts of glitches are kind of par for the course in modern physics-driven games, so I can forgive them--even if they happen far more frequently here than in any other game I've played. What I can't forgive is the bloody fucking terrible enemy voice acting. The deliveries are wooden and emotionless, aside from the cursing, which is over the top. I almost wonder if they just had the programmers record the enemies' lines.

The voice acting is bad, but it's made orders of magnitude worse by the repetition. I heard the same damn conversation about a joke (which is never told) at least fifty times--I didn't start counting until the third or fourth level, and I stopped counting at 35. Most other dialogue I heard a similar number of times. And these aren't spread out, either: at one point, I heard that dialogue about the joke as I planned my assault on three consecutive rooms. And I don't even want to talk about the noises the bad guys make as they die, or the commentary of those around them. I'll just say that I heard "that bitch owed me money" so often that I'm pretty certain the solution to the credit freeze is to employ terrorists as loan officers.

The developers also added a ranking system that wasn't in the first game. At first, I thought it was pretty cool, since there are lots more weapons available this time around. And then I realized I couldn't care less. While the guns aren't all quite identical, they may as well be. Since the game's built on a realistic premise, all guns kill in just a couple shots, and all of them are at least basically accurate. Likewise with all the armor you can unlock: none of it will actually prevent you from dying. And the XP requirements for the weapons are extreme, requiring you to play through the game many times to unlock the high-end gear.

I suppose the ranking system is really geared toward multiplayer. But I can't imagine Rainbow Six being fun online. The whole premise of the game is that you're smarter, better equipped, and better informed than the enemy. You're vastly outnumbered, but you have the element of surprise. Playing against people would put you all on a level playing field, turning Rainbow Six into just another FPS.

Which reminds me that the developers totally fucked up the level design in this iteration. The first game was so enjoyable because, for the most part, you worked room to room, clearing each of terrorists before moving to the next. If you did it right, you could play whole levels without the bad guys ever getting a shot off at you. And then, to keep you from getting too cocky, the developers would throw in a straight open firefight. These were few, far between, and were the most tense moments in the game.

In Vegas 2, they throw out that formula. Instead of methodically working through interior levels, you're forced to frenetically rampage through open outdoor levels. Yeah, there's still plenty of cover, and so you don't just run and gun. But, the tangos know you're coming, and often start shooting before you've even seen them. Vegas 2 plays more like Gears of War than it does the previous game in the series.

All in all, I can't really recommend Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. If you played the first game, you might enjoy it, but you'll more likely be frustrated by it. If you didn't play the first game, Vegas 2 will sour you to the whole franchise. Just play the original.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

I'm not a Batman fanboy. My experience with the Dark Knight consists of afternoon cartoons in the 90's, the various terrible to spectacular movies, and a couple comics my dad bought in an attempt to convince me to forsake Marvel.

But Arkham Asylum leaves me saying just one thing: I am Batman.

Let's start with what AA does worst: combat. Yes, yes, it's absolutely gorgeous. You fluidly chain combos together and you trounce huge swarms of pipe-wielding whackjobs. You look like a total badass. But you achieve this badassery by mashing over and over again on the same button. You do need to mash the other button on occasion to counter an incoming attack (indicated by, for some reason, spidey-sense lines around the head of the attacking character). But it's somewhat unsatisfying. It's not frustrating or annoying, mind you, so it doesn't really detract from the game. But it doesn't add much either.

On the other hand, everything else is amazing.

I really enjoyed all but one of the boss battles. None of them consist of dodging and pummeling. Instead, each boss must be defeated in a unique way using your wits. The only letdown, in my opinion, is the late-game battle with Poison Ivy: it consists entirely of dodging projectiles and throwing batarangs.

The puzzles are really first class, with a good mix of platforming and gadget use. There aren't many puzzles that are strictly logic, but you it does take some smarts to get where you need to go.

But the best puzzles, and the sequences that make you feel most like Batman, are what I'd call the combat puzzles. These take the form of a room with half a dozen or so gun-wielding goons spread about. If you simply jump in and start bashing, they'll tear you apart. So you do what Batman would: you lurk in the rafters until one of the goons foolishly wanders off by himself, at which point you silently swoop down and knock him out before returning to the rafters. As you reduce their ranks, the remaining badguys begin exhibiting progressively more terrified and irrational behavior. These sequences are so much fun I really wish there had been about three times as many.

The graphics and art are also excellent. Arkham Asylum is appropriately scary and spooky, with just the right touch of creepy. I was genuinely afraid at times.

On the other hand, if you're anything like me, you'll miss most of the art. You see, there's a feature called "detective mode", which is a special vision mode for your cowl/visor that you must use in certain situations to scan for evidence and follow trails. It also allows you to see enemies through walls, and it highlights interactive items. Since a big aspect of the game is getting ambushed, there's a huge advantage (and no disadvantage) to leaving detective mode on all the time. Of course, this means that you'll play the whole game with a heavy blue tinge to everything--ruining the art and atmosphere.

The story is quite good: basically, the Joker takes over Arkham Asylum and hatches a dastardly plot to destroy Gotham City by pumping chemicals into the river and water supply. All the old villains come out of the woodwork: Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Bane, Poison Ivy, Zsasz. Maybe a couple others, but I don't recall. Really, everybody. To be clear, AA is set in a fairly standard DC comics continuity; it is not related to the recent Dark Knight movie continuity.

The voice acting is also about the best I've found in a video game. Mark Hammil plays the Joker, as he did in the 90's cartoon show. And much of the rest of the cast sounds like the show's--I haven't bothered to cross-reference on IMDB, so don't get mad if I'm wrong.

Go buy it. You, too, can be Batman.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Prototype (PS3)

I have five missions left in Prototype, and I'm not going to finish them. Probably not ever. But certainly not soon.

Prototype is the perfect example of a modern game not living up to its hype. I was pretty sure I'd like it, and yet each of my hopes and aspirations evaporated more with each elapsed minute of game play.

First, much hype was made about the shape-shifting system. I had imagine that you'd need to shape shift into specific people to access different areas; that to lift a particular door, you'd need to assume the shape of a body builder; that you'd need to navigate conversation and infiltration as a different person. Silly me for thinking the game would have any subtlety.

Shapeshifting is constrained to switching between your main clothes and the last human you consumed with your slurpy Carnage-knockoff tentacles. While the game takes place in Manhattan with its population of millions of unique souls, there are essentially only a handful of people you can become: regular army, different army, army commander, random civilian. Absorb somebody army, and you can stroll onto their base without alerting them; an army commander can walk into the base. A random civilian can do nothing in particular except reset your wanted level.

You not only absorb people to gain new disguises, but certain people are marked with special icons. Eating the people with these icons grants you new abilities--for instance, eating a pilot gives hijacked helicopters more missiles.

One icon represents clues to the backstory of the game. Essentially, you comb NYC for employees of the company that infected you with shapeshifting. When you find them, you eat them. As you "absorb their memories", a short trippy cutscene plays exposing some detail of the plot. There are like 200 of them.

This struck me as basically fine at first, but soon became creepy. The character models are invariably male, but some of the scientists' names were female. In addition, some of the memories were about the person I'd just eaten planning to blow the whistle or protesting unethical activities. So, here are the whistleblowers, and I reward their conscience by absorbing them for their biomass and a trivial fragment of plot?

The other well-hyped point was how powerful you'd feel in Prototype, how much freedom to navigate.

The free navigation thing is true. You can run anywhere, and jump hundreds of feet. Except, you literally just run up walls. And you can literally jump hundreds of feet. So, running the rooftops of NYC feels exactly like running anywhere.

And the powers are lame. They're all variations on either hands-as-blades or spikes-impaling-people. And you unlock them excruciatingly, with a grindy XP system. Oh, and you'll unlock your combos--it literally won't let you put two moves in a row if you haven't bought the combo. Joy.

But I'd forgive all that if the characters, story, or setting had even minor redeeming features.

The main character is a sociopath. He kills just about everybody he meets. But he's not an interesting sociopath, like Hannibal Lecter, rife with nuance, charm, and complexity. Rather the main character is a sociopath mainly because the writing staff consisted of death-metal, slasher-flick fans.

The two female characters you're constantly saving and retrieving are totally uncharacterized. Like, I'm supposed to want to go get that bitch just because somebody once mentioned that she's my sister?

The story is so fucking goddamn trite. Here we go: NYC (or knockoff), big (quasi-)governmental agency develops and releases bioweapon, you have to stop them and save the city. Oh, I mean, you do that on accident, since you're such a badass you only care about your revenge. FUCK! Stop it! Just stop it!

The setting is just garbage. They did a very nice model of NYC (although I don't think it's street-by-street). Full of pedestrians whose sole purpose is to be ignored. And which doesn't feel, in even the most trivial way, alive.

But the biggest problem with the setting is that you can't affect it. Nothing you do is permanent. Kill a hive of infected? It'll be back in a few minutes, one block over. Destroy an army base? Only until the next cut scene. You can't save people, and you can't kill enough of them that anybody's scared of you. At most they're funny ragdolls when you run them over in your tank.

The missions are equally shitty. They alternate between killing a specific baddie down to 2% health then eating him and collecting arbitrary bullshit while simultaneously defending some hopelessly weak structure from onslaught. Oh, and chasing things. Constantly chasing things while being chased by other things. That sounds exhilarating, but really it's just frustrating. It's like being told to rollerblade and shoot skeet at the same time.

So, overall, Prototype is the prototypical current-gen game: expensive, expansive, and extensive. And really pretty shitty.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fixing a Hobie Catamaran (X-Real 720)

I've never been a sailor, but when I saw Fixing a Hobie Catamaran: 16ft Edition on the shelf, I just knew I had to pick it up.

The gameplay could be best likened to a point-and-click adventure. You buy the appropriate accessory and apply it to the appropriate part of the boat. Each accessory is purchased with real world money at one of a number of merchants. A little like the Trauma Center games plus Monkey Island mixed with a shady gold-farmer transaction.

The game consists of four big parts:

1) Fix the hardware. Two blocks (nautical for "pulleys") are broken.
2) The paint is horrible and chipping, so it needs a new coat.
3) There're a couple holes in the mainsail.
4) The hiking strap needs to be replaced with some equivalent.

So far I'm enjoying it. I've completed the minigame where I rebuild the first block. I couldn't replicate the rivet used (for a reasonable price), so I've used a stainless steel bolt.

The minigame I'm working on now is replacing the mast block. This one is fun, as I get to use a neat accessory called a "pop riveter". Of course, the first pop riveter I bought appears to be defective. Since the store isn't open again until Monday, I bought another one elsewhere and will return the original when the store reopens.

When I get a clear day, I'll fill and prime the hulls. It'll take another clear day for each layer of paint I put on. One cool feature is that you can customize the look of your fixed Hobie Cat. I've chosen a color called "Fire Red".

One aspect of this game I can't say I'm too fond of is the price of the various accessories. For instance, to buy sufficient marine topsides paint to play even one round of that minigame costs around $200.

(Which is why I haven't reviewed or even finished Prototype.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stood Up

I rushed through my review of inFAMOUS, even leaving out a planned paragraph talking about the super cool don't-trust-the-media subversion, in order to have it done before today. Because, you see, today I was going to buy [Prototype].

[Actually, you know what, fuck the official stylizations. It's "Infamous" and "Prototype" from now on. It's bad enough I bother to italicize them without throwing in all the fucked up capitalization and extraneous characters publishes seem to feel obligated to include in their titles.]

But, I didn't get to buy Prototype, because, as the fellow at GameStop explained to me, today is the "ship date" and not the "release date".

What the fuck does that mean? The publishers have been saying for weeks now that I could get the game on June 9th, 2009. Well, it's June 9th, 2009, and I don't have a new game.

This is, of course, in contrast to every single other game I've ever tried to buy on launch day. I either got them, or just arrived after they'd sold out. I've never had a game that simply wasn't available on launch day. None of the stores in the area had a copy. None of the stores in the area had even seen a copy.

Can you imagine if movies worked like this? What if "playing now at a theater near you" really meant, "Dude, like, I dunno... the reels are probably in the mail or something. Check back tomorrow."

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I haven't quite finished inFAMOUS yet. I've got one or two story missions left. But that doesn't matter. Short of Sucker Punch Productions arriving at my door and delivering a real sucker punch, there's nothing they could possibly do at this point that would ruin this game. Besides, I have the utmost confidence that they'll deliver a most satisfying ending. [Since writing the draft of this review, I have finished it, and the ending is most satisfying.]

You see, inFAMOUS is completely competent, polished, and playable in every way. There is no part of the game, from plot to platforming, that I do not feel was executed nearly without flaw. Sucker Punch missed no nuance of design, nor included a single bogus feature.

Let's start with the writing. I haven't seen better in this generation. For the first time in a very long time, I actually give a shit about the characters. I completely empathize with the player character, Cole MacGrath. I like the love interest. I could be friends with the best friend character. I totally buy the spooks and the cops and the government response and the quarantine. The betrayals hurt. At no point does the story ring untrue. At no point do I want to murder my allies.

As a game that makes a big deal of the Good vs. Evil karma mechanic, I really appreciate the nuance of the choices in inFAMOUS. While many of the choices are first grade ethics, others are not so clear cut.

For instance, in the beginning of the game, you're publicly accused of setting off the bomb that destroys New YorkEmpire City. As a result, the people of the city throw rocks and bottles at you, curse your name, tell you to clear out. After the first couple of rocks, I really wanted to murder the peons. I wanted to lay waste to them not to witness the destruction (as in GTA:IV), but because I was genuinely angry at them.

The gameplay of missions that make up the story is equally excellent. The missions are all different, with everything from infiltration to defense against onslaughts. Interspersed with missions in the city proper are a number of missions that take place in the sewers as you restore electricity to various portions of the city. These missions serve as short indoor platformer levels, and are some of the most fun in the game. They're also the levels in which you're granted new powers.

As you restore power to each area of the city, you unlock new powers. These powers can then be upgraded with XP (or, in the case of one power, by completing karma-aligned side quests). Surprisingly, not one of these powers is a dud. I wind up using all of them pretty regularly, although some quickly become mainstays.

My only real complaint about Cole's powers is that the basic lightning doesn't really look or behave like lightning. Instead of a continuous arc, each press of the button releases a split-second zap of electricity. The zap behaves more like a laser than a bolt of electricity, striking the precise point at which you're aiming and appearing as nothing more than a momentary blue flash. It actually has lightning graphics, but due to the camera angle, you see almost never see anything but the flash. It's boring, but it doesn't suck, so you'll use it constantly--to the detriment of your trigger finger's health, by the way.

Cole's other main ability, besides electricity, is to climb anything. In fact, the only viable tactic when fighting more than a couple of baddies is to seek the high ground. A cluster of gangbangers will tear you apart at close range, but they're easy pickings if you sit on top of a building and rain lightning down on them like Zeus.

One side effect of the climb anything mechanic is that building models have an unprecedented level of detail. Details that would be baked into the texture in any other game, such as window sashes and seams between cinder blocks, are actually modeled as part of the mesh. It's all of this detail that lets Cole grab onto the side of a building and scale it without looking like Spider-Man.

Sucker Punch has also provided Empire City with a liberal sprinkling of high-tension power lines. These make convenient walkways between distant buildings at the beginning of the game. Shortly into the game, however, Cole gains the ability to grind along them at a terrific clip. Since it's so easy to get between buildings, traveling the rooftops of Empire City is quite fluid and fun.

One of my few minor complaints about inFAMOUS, however, comes from the platforming mechanics. So as to make the running the rooftops a viable means of locomotion, Sucker Punch added a sort of assistance to your landings. So, if you're trying to make a jump, and you're going to miss by inches, the game will subtly alter your trajectory so that you don't miss it. It starts this process just as soon as figures out what you might be jumping for, so the result is usually just that things feel natural and you look like a total badass.

Except when multiple grab points are close at hand. Say you want to jump off a building and fall straight down to the sidewalk. You can't. Unless you jump several feet away from the building, Cole will catch every ledge and cranny on the way down. Want to jump past a cable to the open bed of a truck? Make sure you're at least three feet from the cable, not looking at it, and don't push the stick toward it at all. And pray.

While the graphics aren't stunning overall, the lighting is. Sucker Punch went with a deferred shading rendering model, which lets them light the entire game dynamically. This is utterly vital in producing convincing lightning effects. Your lightning bolts flash bright blue as they arc across the room, casting crackly, fuzzy shadows from everything. Frequently in the sewer levels, the only light will be the crackling arcs of electricity around Cole's hands. These cast the best shadows I've ever seen in a game.

Despite its lack of defects, inFAMOUS is not a particularly original game. Cole electrical powers are exactly the electrical powers you'd think of--I actually bet you can guess all of his offensive powers right now. The major plot elements are bland: terrorist attack, biological warfare. The world design is obvious, with separate islands, each controlled by its own gang. The enemies are boring gang members in campy uniforms, and they only have maybe three or four types of weapons between them.

But the point isn't that inFAMOUS is groundbreaking in its ambition. What makes inFAMOUS great is that it succeeds perfectly at everything it does attempt.

If you have a PS3, and even the slightest bit of mature taste, you'll go buy inFAMOUS right fucking now.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Infamous Teaser

I just got Infamous yesterday. I played it about twelve hours yesterday, with a steady progression of story missions. It's not over.

And I'm glad of that. Because, so far, it's delicious.

I'll get the full review up when it's ready. I expect another couple of days.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I'm not going to bother reviewing GTA IV. You've already bought it, or you're not gonna. But, I am going to bitch about it.

First, GTA IV is the only GTA I've ever finished. The writing and difficulty levels meshed perfectly with what I needed to complete the story. But, in terms of actual gameplay, it wasn't nearly as fun as any of the previous titles. It's a good game. Just not as fun as it should have been.

The main thing Rockstar ruined is the cars. With the exception of the high-end sports cars, none of the cars handle even remotely acceptably. None of the vehicles have impressive acceleration. None of them corner easily. None of them skid predictably. All of them feel like they weigh three tons. It's a fucking video game. All of the cars should at least have the potential to entertain.

Another huge problem is the simulation distance. In previous games, you could sit on a tower and snipe at pedestrians blocks away. In GTA IV, if you're more than about five stories up, few or no pedestrians are simulated, and never any traffic. This means my favorite passtime of crashing cars by popping tires with sniper rifle becomes rather more difficult to facilitate.

The simulation distance also ruins high speed driving. You'll be zipping along in a sports car at high speed. All of the streets in front of you will have fuzzy red and white lights (of are just empty, during the day), but as you hig each cross street, they turn out to be mere phantasms. Until finally, of course, the program streams in some simulated traffic and you T-bone a Plymouth and shoot through the hood.

Combat was much improved previous games. Except for the weird cover system. But, does it matter? It's Grand Theft Auto. If the Auto part sucks, the quality of the Grand Theft interests me far less.

I'm just sayin', I had more fun last time, Rockstar.

EDIT: I just realized that I must have totally blocked out the memory of the loathsome goddamn goatfucking relentless and indiscriminate phonecalls and their chickenraping punitive solidarity system. I'm not going to talk about it. They shouldn't have done it. It's self evident.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PS3)

I'm sorry for the lack of reviews lately. As a self-financed reviewer, I'm loathe to part with money for shit I know I'm going to hate. I've cleaned out the bargain bin of everything interesting. The used rack at GameStop is a wasteland. I even pulled out GTA:IV and went on endless, wife-annoying killspree rampages, envisioning each self-involved pedestrian and feckless cop I firebombed as an unproductive game development executive.

Then I saw that X-Men Origins Wolverine was coming out yesterday. My wife quickly reminded me of the old adage: thou shalt not buy movie tie-in games, for invariably they suck. But, I like Wolverine well enough as a character. And, I'd read an interview a few months ago with a designer in which he said, roughly, that previous video-game incarnations Wolverine had sucked and that he wanted the player to feel like an unstoppable nuclear-powered, nightmare blender of dismemberment. Roughly.

He's absolutely right on the first point. The issue always comes down to claws and regeneration. In some video game incarnations, these are both treated as "mutant powers" requiring "mutant energy" (or whatever) for each usage, as if they were equivalent to an optic blast (or whatever). This generally means that Wolverine's standard attacks will be an assortment of punches and kicks. And, thanks to the treatment of regeneration, Wolverine dies almost as easily as the other characters.

The other variant of Wolverine suckage is nerfing him. The developers animate Wolverine using his claws, maybe with a bunch of cool attacks. But, to keep him from unbalancing gameplay, they reduce the amount of damage Wolverine does to that of a kitten (or, say, Cyclops). Regeneration in these instances is either voluntary (i.e. press a button) or automatic but very slow.

The net result is that playing as Wolverine, you never feel like you're Wolverine. You feel like you're playing a weirdly neutered Wolverine, more of just a generic bruiser with a stellar haircut (or stupid suit, depending on generation). Maybe sometimes it even crossed over to feeling more like Edward Scissorhands on crank. But, I've always known that somewhere, at some point, somebody was going to tap the vast potential of the Wolverine trip. I kinda hoped this might do it.

But, you know, it's a movie tie-in game.

When I booted Origins, and saw the Raven Software logo, I cast aside all fears. Raven doesn't make bad games. They sometimes make okay games, and they sometimes make great games. But, they don't make bad ones.

The overwhelming sense of Origins is that, more or less, you feel like Wolverine. I'm not saying that it emotionally motivates you to sympathize deeply with the tortured character. I'm saying that you feel like an inhuman killing machine. A demon sent from the other side to rend asunder human flesh. You feel powerful.

First, your claws do damage--whether bone or metal. If you just run up and weak-attack repeatedly, you'll eventually fell any enemy. His friends may have beat you around the head and shoulders while you were doing it, though. So, you have a wide array of simply brutal attacks to dispatch foes more efficiently. My favorite is to leap from across the room at my target, knock him to the floor, and plunge my claws repeatedly into his chest. The targeting system is excellent, and it's intuitive to chain together attacks against multiple targets.

Next, you can absorb and recover from damn-near anything. No fight is ever over. Your health bar constantly regenerates (more on regen later), meaning that the only thing that can take you down in combat is rapidly inflicted damage. Huge gangs of enemies can do it, boss characters can do it, but you can literally stand in front of a dude or two with machineguns and remain alive indefinitely. So, if you're quick, you can take down huge swaths of enemies without any danger whatsoever.

Last, the game has beautiful gore and blood. Now, in general, I would say that gratuitous blood and entrails doesn't add much but humor and shock value to a game. But, in the case of Wolverine and his story, it's not gratuitous. Cuts from claws (and knives) sling streamers of blood into the air--a realistic amount, actually, if not too little. Excellent sound design contributes hugely to the experience. Fatalities often result in pieces of badguys flying in random directions.

But, you're fucking Wolverine. He hurts people. It's what he does. And rarely has a Wolverine property (book, game, or movie) had the balls to treat the damage Wolverine must inflict so graphically. And while it's usually fun to watch the carnage, I literally felt sorry for some of the digital dudes I had to kill.

Oh, and before I forget, there's almost no quicktime. There's somebody sitting in its chair, and it's far better. Instead of stopping the action and giving you some random code (as Yahtzee puts it "press x to not die"), Origins slows time for a fraction of a second. And you just do what comes naturally.

Time freezes, you ascertain that somebody's about to impale you, and what do you do? You don't press X, X, O and twirl the control stick. You just press the dodge button at the right time. And then, after you've gotten the upper hand a half second later, you might want to press the attack button. Want to take down the boss? Dodge, spin and leap, hang on to his back, and stab him repeatedly with your claws. Almost none of this is prompted. Furthermore, the moment of opportunity is simply a slowing down of regular time. As a result, the consequences of missing your moment are invariably just your opponent completing his move

But, Origins is hardly without fault. It attempts a bold (for gaming) non-linear story, with flash backs and flash forwards. One thread of the story is a particular mission with Team X in everybody's favorite carnage convention retreat, a temple thingie in a jungle in Africa. The other thread of the story deals directly with the timeframe of the film, taking Wolverine through a number of Stryker's anti-mutant weapon labs.

So, you bounce back and forth between labs and jungle/temple. The two most worn-out and busted video game settings. I understand a little lab time, what with the adamantium bonding process and all. And I'd forgive one short jungle level--'cause nobody seems to be able to make a game without one. But, all of the missions blur together, two endless and intertwined exercises in environmental monotony. There's nothing they do in either that I haven't seen a hundred times before. It's like the level designers were on strike, and they left level design to the guy who also had to paint the textures. But, despite their lack of interesting architecture, the levels are polished, unconfusing, and professional.

Some of the enemies are pretty neat. And some of the boss battles are phenomenal. And some of the enemies (in the jungle) babble constantly in what I can only assume is mock-African. Maybe it's a real language. But, I think it was just funny noises. But, many of the enemy types act identically... I've found one AI routine that's used for three different enemies.

And, of course, the levels are filled with platforming and "puzzles". I guess Raven felt combat was getting stale and so they threw this shit in to break it up. The puzzles are simplistic, although there're a couple that had me stumped for a few minutes. And the platforming always feels out of place in a Wolverine game. And, of course, there's the obligatory you-don't-have-your-powers level. That also doubles as the, uh, "stealth" level... but, again, you're fucking Wolverine, so you hardly handle it like Garrett.

I mentioned the regeneration as a game mechanic above, where it works flawlessly. But, Raven also included a visual regeneration system for Wolverine. Basically, as you take damage, your flesh is rent asunder revealing muscles, bones, and organs. Then, as you regenerate, the tissue regenerates and the wounds close up. It's kinda cool, but also a mixed bag.

It's all done in texturing the character model. So, you'll take a little damage, it'll reveal the "bloody" layer; then, you take more, it reveals the "muscle" layer. Probably the most straightforward approach for the effect. But, it means you can see the seams if, for instance, your shoulder blade is computed to take a lot of damage but your shoulder itself isn't. It also means that your viscera are sometimes weirdly lit, giving Wolverine the appearance of a mangled Ken doll.

And then there're Wolverine's clothes. Apparently, according to the game, Wolverine can regenerate bluejeans but not wifebeaters. Wounds to the torso regenerate to bare skin; wounds to the ass and legs regenerate to bloody bluejeans. Furthermore, his wifebeater is glued to his skin with an even film of spray adhesive. I conclude this because you can have the entire back of your wifebeater gone (only skin back there) but the front will hang on.

But, of course, some cutscenes will regenerate your wifebeater. My wife and I concluded that Wolverine must carry a supply of shirts in his pocket. Basically, the visual regeneration is cool enough if you don't pay it much attention, but doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

And then there's the plot. It deviates wildly from the movie. And yet it quotes some scenes line for line. But, the chronology of events can't match that of the movie. But, it answers certain questions I had after the movie. But, those answers don't make any sense with any other established Marvel continuity. It's some bastard amalgam of the movie plot and poorly-researched comic lore, all tied together with typically atrocious game writing.

I would liken X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Spiderman 2 on the PS2. In Spiderman, Treyarch so perfectly captured the exhilarating joy of swinging through New York City that gamers happily overlooked the lame story and repetitive random missions. In Origins, Raven captures Wolverine's primal spirit, brutal and visceral battle, effectively enough for me to happily overlook the unimaginative backdrop.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Where are the games?

Okay, where the fuck are the goddamn video games?

Why do I have nothing to play? Why is the only thing that's even kind of piqued my interest in about a month this game Flock? A game about kidnapping sheep in a UFO? This is the extraordinary experience that I'm going to spend my time playing?

It doesn't look like there's anything coming out on an actual disk until May.

That's really lame.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Army of Two

Oh Jesus. Where do I start with this shit?

I guess I knew it was going to be bad. I held off buying it until my brother was up visiting me and until it had dropped in price to $20. Surely at $20 it would be an enjoyable bonding experience with my younger bro. I mean, it's a game specifically designed to be played most enjoyably with two players, right?

The combat is boring and repetitive. Instead of interesting tactical challenges highlighting the need to use both players to their fullest potential, the game tends to simply throw platoon after platoon of gormless pissant soldiers at you. It does have some enemies impervious to frontal attacks that must be flanked, but it doesn't present a novel tactical challenge... it's just another of those dudes you've gotta flank. It feels like some sort of high-resolution Wolfenstein 3D remake, but with cover mechanics and without any of the glee.

The cover system aggravates the shit out of me. Mainly because cover isn't sticky. If you're crouched and near something cover-like, you take cover; move away from the cover, and you take to a run. This makes it difficult to determine whether or not you're actually safe when you're ducked behind a box. It also means that if you slip on the button, you can easily find that you've gone from aiming to running away from cover.

Furthermore, the blind fire system is stupidly broken. Both you and the bad guys have ridiculous accuracy while firing blind. Using an upgraded pistol, I routinely got head shots while blind firing. And, I also routinely got shot the hell up by AI soldiers blind firing at me.

The most aggravating part of the cover system, though, is how little the game designers respect it. When given a cover system and a tactical team, the natural way to play a such a game is by checking and clearing each area as you pass through it so that you don't leave and badguys behind you. Army of Two doesn't want you to play naturally, though. It constantly and irritatingly spawns badguys behind you and on your flanks. You'll be in a battle with a small group of dudes, you'll kill one, and suddenly you'll find that there're ten more guys to your left and right. It's like, what's the point of taking cover?

The game dialog is embarrassing, stupid, and macho. The plot is equally trite: you're a soldier, then you're in a private military contractor, then the PMC does something morally questionable, then you fight against them while still making some cash for yourself. It amuses me that this identical plot appears in HAWX, a game about fighter pilots. Apparently, if there's a private military contractor involved, there is only one plot possibility.

Well, maybe there's a twist ending other than the clearly obvious destruction of the PMC. I wouldn't know. Our copy of Army of Two crashed after we had completed one of the most arduous and tedious sections in the game on our third attempt. We made it all the way through, it saved a checkpoint; we watched the next cutscene; it saved a checkpoint; it restarted us in the same hellish quagmire we'd fought our way out of already. Restarting from checkpoint, and reloading the game completely, sent us back to that same hell. At that point, since the game had essentially nothing compelling us to play, we ditched it.

The selection and customization of weaponry is kind of nice. But, the customization really only affects the appearance and some invisible statistics. None of it really changes the way the weapons feel or act. For instance, putting a shield on your gun doesn't seem to actually protect you at all; it just makes enemies notice you quicker. It just means you'll hit the dude slightly more often.

There's one particularly stupid feature I'd like to highlight: the ability to praise or punish your colleague in-game. Now, when I played Golden Axe with my brother back on the Genesis, we both did a perfectly satisfactory job indicating to the other our momentary pleasure or displeasure with the his actions. This was generally accomplished by curses and shouts, although it rarely devolved into fisticuffs. Army of Two, however, thinks I need to have buttons on the controller that, when pressed in proximity to the other character, cause my on-screen avatar to either headbutt or fist-bump my brother's. I think I saw a butt-slap one time, too.

I'd say Army of Two is one of the worst technically competent games I've played recently. I've played worse, but they were worse primarily due to technical defects that detracted from the game experience. There's nothing technically or artistically wrong with Army of Two, it's just stupid and pedestrian. Or maybe I'm just biased since it's the reason I sat close enough to my brother for his airline-acquired chest cold to infect me. It totally isn't worth a week of hacking coughs. Not by a long shot.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage (Downloadable Content)

I started writing this a while ago and only recently found time to finish it up. If you know that any of the bugs mentioned below have been patched, feel free to post so in the comments. To my knowledge, most of them still remain.

For this review, we return to the Capital Wasteland, but only for short while. While we are still in the wasteland that most are probably familiar with by now; Fallout 3’s first downloadable content, Operation Anchorage, has a virtual reality simulator that will takes us to Alaska to fight in one of the famous battles in the Fallout timeline: the liberation of Anchorage.

When I first heard about this download, I was skeptical. It was pretty much decided at the time that this was going to take place in virtual reality and not the “real world” of Fallout 3. Sure, a new area and weapons would be fun, but I’d be unable to bring them back to the real world and use them there. However, it turns out that you do get to keep your new toys and you have a chance to earn a new perk.

The story behind the expansion is fairly simple. While out in the wasteland, you will pick up a distress signal on your radio. Listening to this and following the quest objectives it gives will lead to a new area of DC where a bunch of Outcasts are fighting off super mutants. You can help them out, but it probably isn’t all that necessary, as the Outcasts seem to be able to hold their own. What is important is that you follow them back to their base.

After speaking to the people in charge, they’ll inform you that there’s a vault (a regular vault, not one of the Vault-tec vaults) in their base that is locked and the only way to open it is to complete the simulation that’s being run. Unfortunately for them, they can’t work it because it needs a specific type of interface. Namely, the Pipboy 3000 on your wrist. So, they ask you to help them out and agree to give you part of the loot inside if you do.

The actual simulation is much more linear than the rest of Fallout 3 has been. Also, it’s very combat-oriented. So, if you’re one of those people who have gone through the game by talking your way out of situations, then you probably won’t like this download. Those, like myself, who prefer to run and gun will find this is more up their alley. Even then, the simulation has none of the things I really liked about Fallout 3.

As I said above, Operation: Anchorage is very linear with very few places to explore. I felt almost like I was playing a first-person shooter that had the Fallout 3 combat system. Ammo and health is dispensed to you at regular intervals and you can’t search any of the containers that you normally could outside of the simulation nor can you search bodies (they disappear after being killed).

Also, for some reason, items aren’t picked up the same way as they are outside of the simulation. Instead, an ammo piece is “activated” and it disappears and ammo is added to your inventory. While this has little difference from the regular system, for some reason you can only activate something that you have your crosshairs over it perfectly instead of like normal where you just have to point it in its general vicinity. This made picking up ammo take longer than it should have as you had to move over every individual piece and pick it up (I envy those of you who are playing on PCs.)

I also mentioned that there is a new perk that one can get. It’s the “Covert Ops” perk and one can get it by getting all 10 of the “intel” suitcases spread throughout the simulation. It’s a pretty good perk, increasing small arms, lock picking, and science. However, at this time you cannot go back into the simulation. Whether or not this is a bug or if it is intentional, I don’t know. I’m rather hoping it’s the first. However, this means you have one chance to get all of the suitcases. So, if you’re gunning for the perk, I’d suggest getting a guide to tell you where they are so you don’t miss one (as I have twice.)

This is another thing that annoyed me. There are some places, like the first place you land in the simulation, where you can’t go back to once you pass a certain point. If you’re just going through the simulation to get the vault open, this probably won’t bother you. However, it was annoying to get 9 out of 10 suitcases and then learn that the last one is in a place where you can’t go.

The toys that you get once you’ve gotten through the simulation are pretty nice. The most talked about is the Gauss Rifle. Players of the first two Fallouts will recognize this weapon as being one of the most powerful projectile weapons one could get. The weapon has been changed to an energy weapon in Fallout 3 and uses mircofusion cell ammo, but is still quite powerful and very accurate. However, the gun is tarnished by several bugs that will make you reach for some of the other guns in the Fallout arsenal instead. One of the bugs has the projectile sometimes going through the target and not doing any damage (though the knockdown critical effect will take place.) This combined with the single-shot magazine, which forces you to reload after every shot, made the weapon get old really fast. Hopefully, they will fix the bugs soon.

The other toys in the vault are not quite so broken. For those who like melee weapons, there is a Chinese sword with an electric damage over time effect. Those who like stealth will find the Chinese stealth suit, which gives a never-ending stealth field (a la stealth boy) when crouched, is right up their alley. I’m sure that those with the Ninja perk will find both quite entertaining.

Along with a new knife, the other new item is a set of snow camouflage T-51b Power Armor. Very protective with no stat debuffs and a slight charisma buff make the armor very useful for your average run and gunner. As of right now, it is also bugged, but in a fairly good way. The armor given to you is the simulation version, which degrades at a very show rate (imperceptibly slow) and so won’t need repairs for a long time. The downside is that if it ever does need repairs, you can’t use other power armor to repair it. And don’t worry about not having the Power Armor perk yet. You automatically receive it when you complete the simulation.

The downside to all of this is that if you’ve gotten to the level cap in the game and you’ve done all the quests, you will probably get through the new content in an afternoon and get tired of your new toys soon afterwards. It seems the content is more geared towards low to mid-level range characters; who will find the simulation more of a challenge and will actually put the new items to good use as they travel through the wasteland.

Good news is: there are more downloadable content packs on the way. So, even if you are at the level cap and you aren’t going to be starting up another character, if you like the sound of any of the items above, you should get the content pack anyway so that you can use them in the new content packs that are to come where they will raise the level cap and give us completely new areas to explore in the wasteland.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I hope Caleb helps me out

I've been spending this week hustling for the scratch. Got some good stuff coming down the pike, but it's rather, uh, labor intensive. So, I probably can't keep up weekly posts for the next few weeks. On the other hand, I'll have more cash for more shitty games to review for you at the end of it.

Caleb assures me that he has a review of the recent Fallout DLC ready to go. So, you can expect to see that up soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tom Clancy's HAWX

I want to bet that the same development team, with an upgraded flight physics engine and a new graphics team, built HAWX as built Blazing Angels. From the moment I booted it up, it felt all too familiar. Of course, the surprise is that while Blazing Angels pretty much sucked, HAWX is pretty fun. A little shallow, but fun.

First off, the install time took forever. Forever enough that I saw it was going to take a while, so I made some cookies and put them in the oven. Then came back and looked. Then had a pipe and waited. Then the cookies were done right before the game installed itself. It was easily twenty five minutes or something like that. And, of course, it's installing and taking up your valuable time without actually getting you any sort of entertainment value. And there're still long-ass loading times before missions.

So, having gotten that out of the way, on to the meat.

The basic flight system is nearly identical to Blazing Angels. Your airplane will fly in the direction in which it's pointed, even if that's straight up. One of my friends complains about "airplanes in space" for games like Wing Commander. This flight system is "spaceships close to the ground". However, I'm far more willing to accept this trope on a jet than I was on a prop-plane. The ideal modern fighter would fly that way, and they get closer daily. Unlike a P-51, which should fly like a period aircraft.

They also solved a couple of problems from the previous game. First, they opened the ceiling way up--15km up, or something like that. I never found myself hitting it, and I also rarely found myself crashing during dogfights. Since they had an "in-game", motivated HUD to work with, they could justify marking the ceiling and map borders directly on the screen as red and blue walls.

There were no takeoffs or landings, which actually detracted greatly from Blazing Angels. With such unrealistic physics, there's no joy in taking off or landing. Likewise, there was absolutely nothing like the horribly broken emergency landing event from the older game.

There was however, the Obligatory Canyon Level. However, it was far less annoying and acted as the epilogue, not an integral mission.

And then there was the big addition to the game: Assistance OFF Mode. By double-clicking either of the throttle buttons, you switch to a new camera angle. In this angle, the throttle-down button allows you to brake to the point of stall and perform post stall maneuvers. To which my initial reaction was, "That's cool, but utter bullshit."

But, it turns out that the current generation of fighters are, for the most part, designed to stall with favorable properties. So, even without thrust vectoring, you can probably do most of the stunts with the modern aircraft. The 40 year old ones, not so much.

But, as a gameplay mechanic, it's pretty fun. Mainly, it's useful to be able to dodge missiles (without expending precious flares) and cut short otherwise tiresome dogfights--the bad guys don't seem to know how to do this OFF mode stuff.

The one complaint I've heard is that the plane controls are difficult in OFF mode. It is true that the camera goes to a cinematic view, putting your plane between your target and the camera. And it's also true that your controls continue to be relative to your plane. But, input-to-game motion is highly assisted unless you choose for complete manual control. And it's easier than flying an RC plane, which plenty of folks out there haven't found impossible. Suck it up and display some adaptability.

The developers also saw fit to include a feature that computes flightpaths for you. So, you lock on to a dude, press the button, and it indicates gates in the air through which you should fly to wind up on his tail. I almost totally ignored this option, as it takes forever to fly all of the gates. I could always get there faster myself. But, for a couple of ground-attack runs it was helpful. And it's mandatory in one mission.

HAWX is definitely an arcade-style fighter jet game. It's not a simulator by any stretch. Even putting aside the rather, uh, optimistic flight physics, it's nothing like flying a real fighter. All of the weapons work at roughly visual range. You carry about two hundred missiles. Which is good, because you'll be fighting a couple hundred targets every mission.

And some of those missions are fiendishly difficult. Not because they require any great precision flight or because they require advanced tactical reasoning. Just because there are a million fast-moving targets attacking your defense objective and only one of you. Well, and a couple of wingmen (whose planes invariably fly three times faster than yours for some reason).

It's in these missions that the online CO-OP really shines. Assuming you can find three other people who won't all stupidly go after the same flight of enemies, having some other humans in the mission radically improves your odds of success. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the moment the game is multiplayer, you respawn ten seconds after dying instead of dropping back to the last checkpoint.

My biggest gripe with the CO-OP mode is a technical one. Nowhere is there the option to turn off voice chat completely. No headset, and the incoherent echoes and feedback from everybody else's mic is pumped out your speakers at full-blast. Plug in a headset to end the noise, and you just contribute to the problem. The interplay between headsets and high-power hi-fi gear is complex, and the player should always be given the option to opt out.

My biggest gripe with the Versus mode is also a technical one: I think it's fucking busted, at least on the PS3. I tried to join a versus game several dozen times. I let it sit. I refreshed. I stopped trying to find a match, and restarted it. I twiddled with my modem and fiddled with my router.

It appeared to work once. But, when I got into the game, I couldn't target any of the other players. And there were a bunch of AI-controlled airplanes. Either it dumped me into a CO-OP game when I was looking for versus, or "versus" actually means "whoever shoots down the most AI targets wins". The former option is pretty lame, but the latter would be absolutely unforgivable. However, I was dropped from that game within about forty-five seconds, so I never got to find out. And this was after I brought the game home on launch day to find that there was already a patch available (v1.01).

The variety of planes is excellent. Lots of neat jets from the last forty years of military aviation, and a half dozen from the next fifteen years. All of them very well rendered, with plenty of attention to detail. Everything articulates nicely.

There's also a good selection of diverse weaponry. None of it's "name brand" weaponry, except the Joint Strike Missile (which is still in development IRL). For instance, it's not an AMRAAM it's just a "radar guided missile". But, there's plenty to choose from, with each available weapons package for each plane locked to your progress.

The graphics are quite decent. The terrain, derived from satellite photography, is detailed and varied. I do wish they'd gone with smaller HUD infographics, as it means you see only the infographic until you're a few hundred meters from another plane. But, there's not much else to complain about graphically. No slowdown.

Overall, I'd say that HAWX is, ehh, decent enough. I really wish it had been a simulator, but I see the market issues with releasing a realistic simulator. But, as a game, viewed on its own merits, HAWX is decent enough. Pretty short, with broken multiplayer, but fun for the week it interests you.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nintendo are Assholes

In a desire to actually enjoy a damn game, I bought a rare copy of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes to play on my Wii. I also bought a GameCube controller.

So, tonight, as a reward for playing through that last piece of shit and getting the review out, I inserted the tiny disc in the giant slot on the front of the Wii, plugged in the controller, and settled back on a chair pulled up a measly five feet from the TV. By the way, did you know that controllers used to have wires? Whoda thunkit?

I booted up Twin Snakes and was presented with a screen: No Memory Card present in either Slot A or Slot B. Retry or Continue? wat!? I say? Okay, well, I must have to create a "memory card" back in the Wii's configuration.

So, I restart the console and go to Data Management. The screen informs me that I have nothing inserted in either Slot A or Slot B. "I know, you dipshit, that's what I'm trying to configure." I search for a "create memory card" button, but none is to be found. So I go looking around in Configuration.

About this time my wife, who's been watching and googling, informs me that the Wii needs a "GameCube memory card to save GameCube game progress".

"But, there's no place to put one," I protest.

"On the side, where you plugged in the controller," she replies firmly.

"No, no, there isn't," I say as I poke at the console with growing pissiness. And then I see it. The door that I didn't see before. The door could and should have opened when I opened the first GameCube-related door. Way back in the back. Behind the pickled pigs feet and the weird Asian thing in a can that nobody I know can identify. Another door, filled with GameCube memory card slots.

"Fuck you, Nintendo! Fuck you right in your fucking warp pipe! You couldn't spend 8 cents a unit on a fucking interconnect chip to the flash memory? You couldn't pull a sweet software hack? You couldn't even use the damn SD card slot isntead? You dog fuckers!" I screamed, indignant in my rage.

The WalMart doesn't have a memory card. I have to wait until tomorrow to go see if GameStop does. Fuck.

Remind me again why I bought this damn thing? This was going to be the first game I've played on my Wii in about eighteen months. And it's a GameCube game.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Eat Lead: the Return of Matt Hazzard

I picked up a copy of Eat Lead on release day after watching a couple of gameplay videos. The videos were hilarious, showing really funny parodies of a couple of gaming genres. On the promise of wit and amusement, I bought it.

When I think of funny games, I immediately think of Conker's Bad Fur Day. A tight, playable platformer married to a running string of shit jokes and sexual innuendo. I literally laughed my way through the entire game.

Eat Lead, not so much. It is amusing, when you get to the custcenes. And it does have its share of cute details (like the crates labeled "Crate #3 Low Cover") scattered throughout the levels. But, ultimately, it's a mediocre third-person shooter mashed up with occasional retrogaming parodies an in-jokes.

The thing that kills it is the gameplay. It's based on the trendy take-cover then peek-and-shoot mechanic, made popular in Gears of War and Rainbow Six: Vegas. But, while it's crisp and intuitive in those examples, it's mushy and frustrating in Eat Lead. There's no way to win if you don't use the cover system, but by god you'll wish there were every time you have to duck behind a box.

Equally annoying for what should be a light-hearted adventure with a player character who knows he's in a video game is that you can only carry two weapons. You want a new gun, you'll have to drop one. It seems like they easily could have gotten about fifty good jokes out of the old "where does he keep all that?" questions. And you never have enough ammo for those weapons you like. As a result, you're forced to pick up whatever piece of shit--including squirt guns--the current batch of enemies is wielding. This becomes especially irksome during boss battles. It doesn't help that most of the guns suck.

All of the enemies are roughly the same difficulty, until you get pretty far into the game, when they become impossible to beat with any weapons you've encountered before. Furthermore, they all exhibit nearly identical behaviors. They foolishly run around pointlessly, occasionally dodging behind nearby cover. The game also has an annoying habit of spawning bad guys behind you in the middle of large firefights, leaving you to fight with the cover to detach from the wall and protect your back.

And then there's the slowdown. Insufferable framerate drops in the middle of battle the moment you encounter the slightest whiff of smoke, flame, or any other particle effect. It's the PS3 for god's sake, and it's not as if we're talking about breathtaking graphics here. Most of the level geometry is barely above Goldeneye quality. Although I'm sure that if pressed, the developers would claim that the slowdown is present ironically.

The opening credits inform us that Eat Lead is built on something called the Vicious Engine. If I were looking to license a cross-platform engine, this would not be it. This game simply does not look modern or professional. It looks like either a hobbyist engine (think Torque) or a low-cost last-gen engine hastily ported forward. I've gotten better performance in Java using JMonkeyEngine, and if I were going to build a commercial 3D game, I'd take just about anything else.

I'd forgive all of this if I were laughing the whole time, but I wasn't. The cutscenes are witty and poke fun at all the obvious tropes. But only the obvious ones, making the same jokes I've heard on the forums since 2000.

And none of the wit makes it into the gameplay. You slog through long, boring, repetitive, derivative lengths of level to be rewarded with thirty seconds of mildly amusing dialog. The game fails utterly as humor and entirely as satire.

Basically, it feels like the developers thought "Oh, this game isn't serious. What's the point in polishing to make it fun?" It's the awkward repartee of a socially-retarded pre-teen who squanders every beautiful setup with "that's what she said." It emulates the cliches instead of parodying them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A little late

My next review will be a couple days late. I only got the game yesterday, and so haven't completed it yet.

It's an actual new release, you see.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Blazing Angels

Imagine, if you will, that you're playing Star Fox. You have an anti-gravity ship with truly stupendous acrobatic abilities and neato weaponry. Now imagine that all of your wingmen are Slippy, endlessly screaming "Get them off me, Fox!" over and over again.

That's pretty much Blazing Angels, a WWII flight sim that I pulled out of the bargain rack. I made the mistake of assuming it was on that rack because it was more than a few months old, not because it was terrible.

I'll start with the good stuff: sharp graphics; nicely detailed terrain and buildings; a wide selection of iconic and forgotten WWII fighters and dive-bombers, with relatively different capabilities; varied missions in varied combat theaters. And the dogfighting itself is engaging enough, I suppose, in the same way that pinball or tetris is engaging--although not anywhere near the same degree.

But where shall I start with the bad? How about the physics?

I understand that Blazing Angels is supposed to be an "arcade style" flight simulator. But, it was my understanding that "arcade style" in this situation meant primarily that I didn't have to futz about with flaps or worry about the local wind speed. It's supposed to indicate that you needn't have received your FAA flight rating to enjoy the game. I didn't realize that it meant my WWII airplane would handle like an X-Wing.

In a real fighter plane, the standard way of accomplishing a sharp turn is to roll your plane in that direction and then pull up on the stick. While your plane is rolled over on its side, the amount of upward lift generated is fairly low. So, you lose altitude. Not in Blazing Angels, you don't... instead, you can cruise along on All American Anti Gravity in whatever orientation you might like for as long as you might like.

Likewise, "stall" refers to a concept whereby you lose lift from the wings as the airplane attempts to climb too quickly. It's actually a really complex phenomenon, and has a number of really unpleasant effects on an airplane. However, in Blazing Angels, "stall" means "you've reached the level's ceiling". This means all of your missions take place at an altitude of about 1000 feet. It gets pretty difficult to enjoy a complex dogfight when you're constantly worried about hitting the ground.

Furthermore, I know of no plane where standard operating procedure for pulling a sharp turn is to slow down to apparent bicycle speeds. Seriously. At the low speeds you can achieve, you should be falling out of the sky like a rock, not turning that much more effectively.

The planes also handle in other subtly incorrect and annoying ways. After playing a large number of high fidelity flight simulators in my lifetime, I found myself constantly fighting with the controls as my plane did something totally counterintuitive and inexplicable. I imagine you wouldn't have these issues if you expect a P-51 Mustang to handle like a Starfury, though.

Physics aside, the dogfighting is decent enough. Lots of twists and turns, split second where the bogie's in your crosshairs, getting your leading just right (indicated by the crosshairs lighting up), papapapapapapap, flames and smoke. It's a shame you spend all your damn time flying close air support for ground and naval units.

In an effort, I guess, to add realism, you almost never fly simple missions consisting of destroying other fighters. Instead, you're invariably tasked with supporting either ground or naval targets as they perform some unseen objective. To achieve this task, your plane is equipped with bombs, rockets, torpedoes, or a camera. We'll get to the camera in a minute.

Flying close air support is boring. You make endless dives through AA, dropping bombs or launching rockets, as you blow up unending numbers of unmoving machine gun emplacements and battleships. It's made more aggravating when it never ends, because, of course, your bombs and rockets regenerate. Launch all eight rockets, or drop both your bombs, wait about five seconds, and do the same thing again. Over and over. It's made even more ridiculous when one remembers that while dive bombing was a widely-used tactic for destroying ships and dug-in infantry positions, they actually had these planes called "bombers" whose primary purpose was to bomb things. The primary purpose of fighters was to protect the bombers.

There are, I believe, two bomber-escort missions in the game.

And one mission where your objective is to take some pictures with a camera. A camera which, apparently, has its shutter time set for about 2 seconds, based on how long you hold down the button to charge the "camera bar" before the picture is taken.

I don't think most people buying a WWII fighter sim want to either bomb or photograph things. Mainly I think they, as do I, want to engage other fighters in aerial combat. If you'd like me to protect some bombers, I'm down; but, don't make me personally drop more bombs in one mission than that entire bomber wing carried during the war.

Your wingmen are also totally and completely obnoxious. While not quite as useless and feeble as Slippy (they occasionally destroy enemy targets), they talk constantly and only have a couple dozen lines available. This means that you'll be subjected to the same corn-pone bullshit over and over again. I wanted to shoot them down myself.

Each of your wingmen provides a unique ability. One has the ability to draw off any aircraft attacking you. Another will attack your designated target (and its formation) with pretty effective results. And the last one will activate a quicktime event that repairs your plane in mid flight. That's right: you can have half your tail shot off and flame spewing from your fuel tank, and hitting XXOX will instantly put the flames out and mold a new tail out of Bondo while you speed along at 150mph. These abilities have a very long recharge time. A recharge time which seems to interact very badly with the death/checkpoint system--and not in your favor.

I also want to admit that I cheated. I cheated because one level is pretty goddamn fundamentally broken.

As a scripted event, you're hit with a burst of flak. This burst of flak supposedly destroys your controls or the control surfaces. You're instructed to land the airplane on a convenient airstrip and come back up in a new one. That's fine. Kind of a neat idea, even.

However, I don't know of any plane or any accident that makes your airplane buck and shift uncontrollably to the right every three and a half seconds. It's my impression that control failures tend to result in either a complete loss of that axis of control (and stability in that axis), or a steady drag in one direction or another. This was on a timer... every 3.5 seconds, push the aircraft 5 meters to the right and 2 meters down. Combine this with the fact that you can only land on approved "airstrip" material--touching wheels on grass means instant death--and I cheated to get past the agony. It wasn't fun, immersive, interesting, or challenging. It was stupid and frustrating. If the cheats hadn't been available, Blazing Angels would have gotten an even worse review than it's getting now.

Also, there's a mission where you have to fly through a 10 meter wide valley with all manner of stalactites and stalagmites in your path. Because god forbid you follow the valley to Hitler's Secret Weapon Base by climbing up above the valley and following it visually. You can't do that! Don't you know that airplanes will stall if you fly them outside of valleys? Idiot.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that if I'd written Blazing Angels in my third-year games programming course, I would have been totally proud.

As a professional cross-platform title, Blazing Angels is crap. The dogfighting doesn't suck too badly. But, you never get to do any of that.