Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3 Setting Leaked?

According to Joystiq (who got their information from Kotaku, who got their information from a Best Buy employee), the above image is representative of what we can expect out of the main protagonist from Assassin's Creed 3.  The main protagonist that isn't Desmond, of course, but rather one of Desmond's ancestors, who must've really got around.  Middle Eastern, Italian, now Native American?  Truly, it boggles the mind a little.  Regardless, there's another family tie that makes even less sense, so maybe I just shouldn't think about it too much because Ubisoft clearly just wants to set a game in the American Revolution which isn't a very popular era, actually.  Well, not -yet-, though I have a feeling AC3 might usher in a few others covering the time.

Back when AC3 was just revealed the theory that the French or American Revolution could be the main aspect of the past-story, so somebody seemed to have been right on the money!  Or just really really lucky with guessing, I guess.  I would've preferred something a little, uh....older, perhaps even before Ezio since, hey, there's no reason someone before him couldn't have just been a really good assassin, but I guess this'll work.  Guns are still new, so they probably won't see overuse, but the fact that our Main is clutching one isn't too encouraging.  Still, he also has a bow and arrow which, by using the last games as a metric, will be far more deadly than the actual pistol itself anyway.  Though, speaking of his weapons, I'm not too sure about that Tomahawk replacing the hidden blade; it just seems a little less, uh...functional.  Assuming it -will- replace it, which....well, just look at it.

Something else I'm a little iffy on for this is the idea that, and I might just be completely wrong on this, there just aren't the types of big, tall, expansive buildings in Colonial America as there are in the other locations that AC has visited.  Especially depending on the actual when that it takes place in, since it'll be even less so if they start really early in it.  Would that mean a bigger focus on using nature and the environment rather than rooftops and such?  Would it just....have a much less 'stealthy' approach in general?  I don't know and maybe I'm just thinking of the period incorrectly, but I just can't see Assassin's Creed gameplay in this time period without some heavy editting.  Then again, I might just be completely misrepresenting my memories - in which case, I'll happily admit I'm wrong.

Honestly, I just don't know about any of it, really.  I had AC3 built up in my head as the ultimate ending to the story; rather than visiting the past, Desmond was just ready to take it to the 'man' as it were, and the whole game would revolve around just that.  With the modern-day landscape of skyscrapers and such, as well as all the advances in technology that could exist or could 'reasonably' be in the game, it would be a very different experience, but built on the exact same principles as the first two.  If Desmond still had to hop in the Animus, I figured it'd be smaller bites, chunks here and there of different assassins lives just to earn their main tricks - akin to Sly Cooper 1, I guess, with the whole Thievius Raccoonus angle of special abilities.  I guess this still could be the case and the Native American is just a red herring (I'm not really going to question its legitimacy - it looks pretty real) in a sense, but I doubt it.

Still, I'm interested in it as I would be with any iteration of Assassin's Creed 3, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.  I have faith that Ubisoft will, at the very least, create a game I don't dislike, as it has done with AC1-AssBro.  They weren't perfect, but they weren't bad games in the least and I'm still eagerly anticipating a time where I can play Assassin's Creed:  Revelations without worry, though I'm not sure such a time exists.  I likely won't jump on AC3 right off, so dodging the spoilers will be a bit painful, but I've managed it before and I'll manage it again.  Though, I have to admit, the temptation with Assassin's Creed 3 will be much higher than most games, simply because I'm not so much invested in the story as I am interested in it - It doesn't seem like an easy story to write, much less reign in towards end-game, so their efforts will either go incredibly well, or incredibly poorly and it's really hard telling which side they'll land on.

Update!:  Aaaand, it's official.  Just in case you want to see the Box Art without clicking a link...

Come April, we might get some more information, as Assassin's Creed 3 is GameInformer's April cover story.  Until then, this is all we've got.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Couple Bits of Japanese Handheld News

Today just seems like one of those news days, since I do have two pretty-big (well, decently big, depending on your perspective) game announcements to throw out here.  I like these days, even when they're just about games I'm interested in, and don't have proper experience with, which is both of these games this time unfortunately.  The first, which is directly related to the above screen of 999:  9Hours, 9 Doors, 9 Persons, is that the sequel for the game, or at least spiritual/semi sequel to it, is getting a release outside of Japan, specifically to North America.  Both the 3DS and Vita versions (Retail and digital for the latter) are heading this way sometime this fall, but beyond that the details on the specific date are a little sketchy.

The details that -aren't- sketchy, however, is that the game will offer both the English and Japanese audio tracks for those who really just hate dubbing, or want to give it a listen in glorious Nippon stereo.  Even if you don't care for audio beyond the region it's released in, I think we can all agree that just having the -option- should be vital.  Especially when it directly impacts the capacity in which it can be released which I am still totally not bitter about at all or anything, nope.  Beyond that, I don't know what all there is about the game, as I never played the first, and haven't really kept up on the game since the Japanese name, "Extreme Escape Adventure:  Good People Die" just never caught me because I thought it was something completely different, regardless of the fact that it's on the Vita, which as you know will draw my attention right quick.  The new name, Zero Escape:  Virtue's Last Reward, lacks that punch of "Good People Die", but is also a little better sounding regardless.

I'm definitely going to be interested in this now, since I've been clarified as to just what it is.  I've always wanted to give 999 a shot, but, wouldn't you know it, a niche game for the DS is impossible to find in 'the wild' as it were.  I'll still keep my eye out for it, but short of a re-print, I'm not too hopeful on my chances.  I believe I spent all of that luck when I found The World Ends With You (which I have yet to see what the big deal about it is) and Ghost Trick:  Phantom Detective which I thought was fantastic as you might remember.  My only exposure was playing the browser demo that was available way back when and I thought it was pretty great.  With any luck, I'll be able to find it before I can get my hands on Zero Escape, but again, I'm not putting my chances up too high.

Working off the "only mostly related" theme I've got going with screenshots, the above shot of Persona 2:  Innocent Sin should give you an idea as to what the other bit of news is.  If you're not quite there, however, I'll just come out and say it:  Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is getting a PSP-release, rounding off the Persona collection by being the final one to get a PSP version.  (Minus 4 which is getting a Vita version.  Same thing.)  The japanese text in the picture is appropriate as well, since there's no specific North American release mentioned but, c'mon.  It's Atlus.  We know these guys, we trust these guys.  They'll get us the game.  Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they make a special edition out of it that includes a digital copy of the game if you buy it for UMD just to make sure everyone with a Vita will look into it as well.  I certainly will.

Once again, my only real exposure to the Persona series here is Minimal and that's probably for the best, considering the wealth of options that are theoretically available at this point.  With Persona 1, both 2s and 3 on PSP (and thus, will be on the Vita eventually if not already, via digital BC) and 4 on the Vita itself, it's possible that one could have -all of the Personas- at once.  Digital versions of all of them, or Digital of the first four with 4:  The Golden as a card in your Vita, which is likely the route I will go.  I can only hope Atlus does some sort of package deal so I can pick them all up in one fell swoop and just -have them- for whenever I feel like playing an RPG.  Which is often, of course, and certainly not an issue on the PSP.  Looking through the PSP catalog on my Vita has proven dangerous, as I've already just started thinking about grabbing PSN cards at random to just throw at games that I don't have time to play.

It's great to see that these Japanese-centric games and studios are giving us all a chance, regardless of their permanent 'niche' seat.  For all the praise 999 has received, the sequel will no doubt be fantastic as well, and I look forward to grabbing it before it becomes too rare to find.  (Even though I could just download it just as easily, since it'll be on the digital store.)  And with Persona 2:  Eternal Punishment being a Persona game, well, there's likely good times to be had there as well.  It's all a matter of just getting them and getting the time, as always, which seems to be a running theme of this year moreso than previous.  And I love it and hate it simultaneously for times just like this.  Times that make me wonder why the hell some of this stuff couldn't come out last year.  Because goddamn this year.

Monday, February 27, 2012

For a Moment, the Internet Had Hope

A domain was recently registered by Squeenix for something called "Chrono Bind" which had the internet going into overdrive at the connection of Squeenix and the word "Chrono".  Surely it was the long-awaited threequel for the Chrono series that would come by and right all the wrongs in the world and such.  But, no such luck, as Chrono Bind is simply a card game for FFXIII-2 which, I'll grant it is terribly named.  It's not even a trading card game, so far as I can tell, just some sort of Casino card game as it's described as here.  It is, by all means, simply ignorable aside from the fact that it gave the internet hope for such a short time to anyone reading Siliconera.

The thing that gets me, and I might be biased in this, is that I don't get where this blind faith comes from.  Any news of a new Chrono game possibility is met with universally positive out-pour, despite the last attempts at a sequel and a re-release were just poor.  It is Well Documented that I have issues with both games, and for that assortment of reasons, I just don't see a third Chrono game being a 'worthy' game in the series.  It might be a good game by its own standards (which people who really like Chrono Cross, but don't want to argue about it being a true sequel say (it's not.)) and if that much happens, it'll be magical, but they're clearly so far removed from the thought process that worked with Trigger to come back.  Simply because one of Trigger's many, many successes was it's simplicity which, considering the generalization of Squeenix stories since Final Fantasy VII (if not earlier), likely isn't coming back.

I guess the logical step to take here would be to suggest my idea for a third game in the series, to show off just how little faith I have in them to make it happen, but I just don't have an idea.  The way Cross has its tendrils steeped into Trigger's story all of it happening basically entirely at the end is not only fairly all-encompassing, but terribly done, so to move forward, you would have to try and find some way to justify that out.  I guess the way you'd want to go is to take the idea put forth with the previous games and run with it, going full-on spiritual sequel rather than trying to pretend it's an actual continuation of Cross' and/or Trigger's storyline.  Spoilers for both games are coming below, so if you care, haven't been spoiled on either somehow, or just plain don't like spoiling, move along.

The basic principle put forth towards the middle or end of Chrono Trigger is that Lavos isn't just a single entity, but it's implied that it is one of its kind, and its kind launches to worlds, sucks them dry of energy, spawn more of it, and those in turn carry out the same life-cycle.  In fact, towards the end of Trigger, you fight some Lavos Spawn that look, essentially, like really tiny version of him, so it's no surprise that this is a thing that happens.  So if it's established that this is not a single incident, work with that!  Pick a new world that can be as similar or different from Trigger's wold (since Cross' world is technically the same world, there's just suddenly tropical islands thanks to a computer program, no I'm not joking) as they want, and have a Lavos Spawn be living in it, or even hit it while technology is advanced, rather than when man was new to the planet.  It would be interesting to see if they could try and figure out a timeline that put an even more futuristic world into the forefront than Trigger's 1999 and 2300, which were inaccessible and ruined respectively.

If you absolutely, positively have to ham-fist a direct connection to Trigger and Cross, then I don't friggin' know what to tell you.  Cross' theme is, roughly, "You saved the world, but it's fucked anyway", showing off how bad things happened regardless of the fact that there wasn't an entity eating the world from inside except there still was because it didn't die when it was killed.  Or it did die and just got better thanks to the magical princess it ate at 12,000 B.C.  Who colored her hair blonde in the 14,000 or so years she was part of Lavos except she was part of him for time eternal or something, since Lavos in its newly not-dead form existed outside of time because it was eating time.  So anyone who was connected, realistically, with Lavos from Trigger is either dead or dying by the time Cross takes place and I don't even know what happens with that after Lavos is destroyed again because the whole theme was there's two separate timelines that were existing side-by-side.  (Except there were a lot more than two, as was revealed by the fact that there was a timeline where Serge already won and was shacking up with Kid or something, you know what, I don't know anymore.)

Not having a direct connection to Trigger and Cross means, essentially, that they have to think of a way to make it work without being a direct retread of Trigger, which is why I suggested the Lavos Spawn hit while the world is matured, rather than young, so they can research it and such to find out its terrible secrets while time and existence itself starts wrecking itself from the inside out.  Or something.  I can't really go too far in-depth with my idea since it's never going to happen as well as the fact that there's just so much terrible that I can't pick it all off to present something uniformly good.  Though I suppose now, after all that, I can see why people have a little hope for a third Chrono game as, the idea I came up with was literally on the fly and I wouldn't mind playing that after describing it.  I really wouldn't mind it, especially if they merged the two gimmicks from Trigger and Cross and had Time Travel and Alternate Dimensions.  Also a space ship instead of a plain airship because fuuuuutuuuuurreeeee.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Few Demo Impressions

Since I can actually download things, giant things in fact, on my shiny new Vita with no worry, I've finally partaken in something I haven't done in a while in downloading demos and playing them.  I'm kind of impressed and afraid of the fact that there's a LiveArea for the actual demo and on each one there seems to be a big spot that says "Buy now!" because that is -way- too easy, and it makes it entirely too tempting for me, despite not having the funds to buy any of them just yet.  And even when I do throw in a $20 or so, it's instantly spent on PSP games.  Regardless, while there isn't a wide selection of demos currently, there are a few choice ones, so I picked up the two that I was most interested in:  Lumines and Rayman Origins.  Obviously, the above will indicate to you that Lumines is up first which I'm kind of mixed about.

Lumines is...certainly an experience, I'll grant it that.  Everyone who has said "You have to play it to get it" in so many words or more is spot on since I really had no way to anticipate what Lumines had to offer me until I started it.  And I don't think I was quite prepared while I was playing it either, so I'm kind of left with a little confusion here as to how to describe it.  I think my problem, which is a personal one, not one with the game, is that is that I'm trying to play it like Tetris which makes you lose really fast.  I'm kind of not grasping the fact here that you have to really think about it a little more, making squares and rectangles rather than lines, as well as trying to think of how to utilize the few tools they throw your way (randomizer blocks and....something else that sort of takes out all the similar touching blocks) really throws a surprising amount of depth.  An amount of depth that I can't just wrap my head around yet.

I'm not sure if there's an actual end-point to the demo, since it seems to be "Voyage Mode" which....I don't know if that ever ends either, aside from if you lose.  I know that I've only experienced two backgrounds and songs, with the above being the latter, accompanied by this song which is pretty fitting of the mood set by the Glitter Disco setting, as I called it, when I sent Kaseius the above screen through the Group Messaging app.  Which is so goddamn handy, you guys.  The level of multi-tasking the Vita allows for absolutely blows my mind again and again, especially so whenever I remember that I can just take a screenshot and use the Vita browser to upload them to Imgur to post here.  I'm going to use the -hell- out of that, I already know it, and that's so friggin' awesome.

Rayman Origins was a much more wholly pleasing experience, on the other hand.  Lumines wasn't -unpleasant- by any means, so much as it was a bit disorienting for someone who doesn't generally play puzzle games, whereas Rayman was a return to form for Sidescrolling Platformers that I just haven't put too much time into lately.  There's LittleBigPlanet, of course, and the Classic Sonic stages of Sonic Generations, but cases could be made for their extra bits to take them out of 'Pure' Platformer status which might not be too out of line.  Rayman Origins, at least by the demo, has none of that; it is a platformer from side to side, top to bottom and it is glorious for that.  Not only that, but it's an absolute visual treat to look at, not only by the fact that, as you can see above, it's just magnificent looking, but because the framerate is locked down friggin' tight.  Or, at least, the demo's is, which is very much appreciated.

There was a genuine moment of hesitation as I loaded up the LiveArea for the demo again and saw that icon for unlocking the full game.  I don't have the money, but I have the game downloaded, more or less, so it's just....-there-.  Any time I wish and can manage it, I can just flick that, and have access to the entirety of it, which I might just be forced to do if it happens to wind up on sale digitally at some point.  While I like Physical media (I even like the little Vita cases, despite the fact that they more or less always only hold a game cart), I might not be able to help myself if the right price comes around.  Which I hate, since I've pointed out that if I like a game, I should be willing to throw full price at it, but I just can't afford to do that right now, both because funding is a little low, but because I just don't have time.  I haven't even started up Uncharted yet.

Anyways, getting back on topic, there's nothing really negative to be said about Rayman Origins' demo which I find a little surprising.  I hadn't given the game a second look during its development when I heard that it went from Download-only title to full retail, but after playing around with it, I'm not too surprised by that anymore.  It's charming and old-school at heart, slowly easing you into the mechanics of it all, while also presenting interesting layout to enjoy while you learn.  There's no real story because it doesn't need one outside of the fantasticly lovely intro sequence would suggest; the equivalent of having a crotchety old downstairs neighbor causing problems because she thought you were being too loud.  Of course, instead of just yelling at people to try and cause you distress, she sends her dark minions up into the world for you to fend off.  This is all told without words, without a lead-in and it's perfect the way it is.

Beyond that, it's not too complex, not throwing new or outlandish things at you, but it doesn't need to.  With the smooth framerate and the wonderful art, all it needs to do is give you a world of that to traverse, and you're more than happy to do so.  Collect the lightning bug things, find relics, don't die.  Simple enough, but extraordinarily pleasing thanks to Rayman's presentation and direction.  I honestly walked away from the game completely surprised, if that wasn't obvious, and while it's obviously a little moreso with Rayman, both games I talked about here are things I will be constantly be revising by choice, which I'm a little surprised about.  If you haven't given them a look, I'd heartily recommend you do so.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pokemon Black and White 2 is a Thing, Possibly Dumb

I don't even friggin' know.  The other day, it was teased that there was going to be a 'very important announcement' on Pokemon Smash, a Japanese TV show that is, presumably, about Pokemon, and nobody really knew what to think.  Was it finally the announcement of the inevitable Pokemon Grey?  Was it just an announcement for a new Wi-Fi event?  Was it just showing off a new legendary because why not?  Nobody knew for sure, though it was pretty obvious where people were leaning.  So when Pokemon Smash came on, everyone watched to see just which of their favorite picks would be the one, not knowing that not a single one of them was going to be correct.

Pokemon Black and White 2 was announced for the DS, as in the normal one, not the one with a third dimension, to hit Japan this June.  This is not a working title, this is not a coy "We're making another one, are you guys surprised, but there's no name yet" this is a straight-up sequel or, rather, sequels to Pokemon Black and White and I am personally flabbergasted.  Yes, I went there.  I imagine plenty of other people are as well since this...well, this is just dumb.  I know that's an inflammatory statement and it's completely intentional because it is dumb on two levels.  Not only is a sequel completely missing the point, but there's not even an interesting story for Black and White 2 to pursue.  If you avoid spoilers like the plague, skip to the next paragraph now because I don't even care enough about the story to pretend like I do.  The whole storyline of Black/White is pushed by the resident Team of awful screw-ups who are being lead by an even bigger idiot.  The whole while, their message is "Pokemon aren't tools of War!" and they try to prove it by using their pokemon to fight the pokemon of trainers and if they by some miracle win, they steal the pokemon and try to set it free or something.  It is every shade of stupid.

I guess this does solve the issue of trying to think up 150 more pokemon that people will give absolutely zero shits about, but I just can't see this as anything other than dumb.  I won't say it's a stupid move because it's clearly not; It has pokemon in the title so it will make millions.  It might even be a good game on top of that.  But I just can't imagine where they're going to go with this, besides making some of the cities/towns important again for some reason.  Are you just going to be a new trainer and do the same thing, eventually facing the MC from B/W 1 at the Elite Five Four?  Are you going to be the same trainer from B/W pulling an Ash and throwing away every Pokemon but one and starting again fresh?  I just.....just now realized that the above article I linked says the US Site apparently calls the games "Version 2" which could mean it's just an updated version of the game or something.  But I'll leave the above in for the simple fact that it still could be a sequel.

Hrm.  I guess a Version 2 of that could just mean updated versions of the game, thus negating the need for a "Grey" version while also making twice the money.  Okay, not really that last part, but still.  It would have all the events and extra bits of a third game while also retaining the level of exclusivity for Pokemon and features that the original games had.  Or perhaps switch things off a little so that both versions are still 'necessary', but Black 1 and Black 2 are still different enough.  I don't know, but unless there was a lot of extra stuff, like beyond Pokemon Platinum-Level of things, I don't think it'd be worth it.  I honestly think they could've gotten away with doing it on 3DS and adding token things plus 3D, but we'll see.  I know if they ability to have your lead pokemon follow you, ala Heart Gold/Soul Silver is included, that alone will sell thousands of copies.  Possibly one to me, as well.

This will be worth watching out for, at the very least.  Whether it's just updated versions of the games we already have and (some other people) love, or a true, honest sequel that I don't know how it could possibly work, it'll be something different for Pokemon if just in name alone.  Baby steps at the very least, towards something that they really really need to do, which is shake up the foundations they've built for themselves.  I've gone on and on about it in the past, and while I'll likely always suck it up and buy most of the Pokemon games that come out, I think I'll really start enjoying them once they put more than the token effort into it.  Do something that we haven't seen since Gold and Silver when they had the brilliant idea to let you head off to a different area entirely.  Just something to try and win some of the people back who will say "I haven't played since (color)" rather than having every game be -somebody's- first Pokemon game.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Okay, I Can't Resist

Dynasty Warriors and the Vita are two things that you know I can talk about for very extended periods of time so, despite me wanting to not just go on and on about the Vita this week, I'm going to have to.  It's launch week, so I guess that makes it okay, since, y'know, it is the thing to be talked about currently, so there is that.  Regardless, after a trek that involved leaving one GameStop to go to another GameStop entirely because the latter one had a copy that the clerk at the former convinced the clerk at the latter to hold for me, Dynasty Warriors Next was in my possession and, while it was a slightly long journey home then, it was well worth it.  For me, of course, because I am a Warriors whore and this sates the desire and then some, though I'm not sure it's in the way I expected.

I want to get the positive out first; the game is -really- good looking.  While I can see textures that just aren't as detailed as they are on the PS3 version for obvious reasons, I can barely tell that it is, in fact, not as awesome looking because it sure fakes it just as well.  And I think even more importantly, it has a really, really smooth frame-rate.  I haven't noticed really any chugging and the few times where I have questioned FPS, it was more like one of those "Did I imagine that, or did it slow down just a tad for a split-second" moments, so it could have honestly been a trick of my eye.  Basically what I'm saying is that it's slick, and I'm pretty amazed by that.  I guess I expected worse from KOEI for the simple fact that it was their first attempt at making a Vita game which generally leaves the door wide open for technical issues.

The controls are, more or less, untouched from DW7 which isn't too much of a surprise.  The big things here is that R1 no longer switches to your secondary weapon as there are no secondary weapons in Next.  There are also no secondary musous in the same sense as they existed in DW7.  Both of those are rather unfortunate, but I can understand them without too much grumbling.  Also gone from 7 is the ability to swim which, again, is understandable at this point.  I would certainly hope that future Vita installments has swimming back in it since it adds another level of navigating, but we'll just see.  Other than that, the movesets appear to be more or less the same and there are a few extra ones in the game even:  from what I've heard and can tell, there's four movesets in Next that were DLC in 7.  The Bomb, Giant Axe, The Mace or the Wolf's Fang (I believe that's what it's called.  It's the weapon Xiahou Dun had in Dynasty Warriors 6) and the 'Dagger-Axe' are all in Dynasty Warriors Next for Dong Zhuo, Xu Huang, Pang De and Yue Ying respectively to further declone the characters.

There are a few things I'm really a bit perturbed about though, unfortunately, so I have to point them out.  The picture at the top of the post is from my game (which, yessss, I love this screenshot feature!) and it shows off my number one complaint with the game:  the duels.  If you didn't watch the Giant Bomb Quick Look for the game in the first post of a few of the Quick Looks, then you're likely uninitiated into this style of the duels and for that, I apologize for breaking you into this insanity.  In a game all about slamming buttons rapidly, duels use no buttons at all, but instead defer to the touch controls in one of those ways that will make people prematurely hate touch controls because this is awful and stupid.  There are three things you can do in a duel:  slash, don't slash, or guard break, which are done by flicking the screen, not touching the screen, and pressing the screen respectively.  The enemy can do that and also guard and parry, which a parry counts as a hit and they always follow it up with a guard break which is a hit or two as well that you just cannot friggin' block or stop at all.  It's hard to condense into words how a duel works without saying "Flick the screen a lot until you win or die", so let's go with that.

If you want to pretend there's an element of strategy, however, and you will have to for the duels in later levels of the campaign or if conquest starts running long, thus necessitating a scaling difficulty, then you need to study your foe.  If they're just standing, you're suppose to slash them, if they're blocking, you're supposed to Guard break (NEVER SLASH, they will pary and guard break you while you're staggered which negates the point aside from doing big damage.  By the way, your guard breaks do no damage.) and if they're preparing a guard break, slash.  The problem is trying to figure out what the difference between idle stance and blocking is in the short few moments you have before they start smacking you if you don't swing.  I think the biggest damnation against the duel system is that KOEI must -know- it's terrible because once you get in one, you can't get out of it unless you quit the mission entirely or win.  Upon dying, it just gives you the option to retry or quit which might come across as merciful at first, but in my mind, it's a preventative measure to ensure nobody complains about losing an entire mission's progress because the dueling system sucks.  Unfortunately, it was already shown off and they had to stick with it, rather than axing it.

My other issue is that, despite there being a Campaign and Conquest mode, they are largely the same game, save for Campaign has a story attached to it.  Both modes have you use the regular Empires-style mode of play where you pick territories to invade in an attempt to gain a certain portion of China determined on whatever is open.  In the largest map of Conquest, it's the entirety of the land, whereas in everything else I've seen so far, it's...well, less than that.  Lack of variety aside, Conquest does have a rather next little thing that calls itself "Online" but is not, in fact Online and instead merely uses online elements.  When you generate your Conquest map, you can chose to have it populate with other 'players' which actually just takes the Created Warriors they've made and throws them in a province or two, where the creator of them will likely be the ruler of that faction you're up against, or at least located in the capital.  Beating them sends a challenge to them that, when they play the game next with online features activated, they'll receive it and play.  You don't really get to determine what is sent, nor do you get any feedback (did they beat your time/character), but it's interesting nonetheless.  Depending what stage of Conquest Mode you play in, you even have a chance to (temporarily) recruit someone else's CAW and can then take them for a spin which is a mere novelty at best, but still.

I could go far more in-depth in the game than this and I will almost assuredly do that some day, but for now that should be a good-sized peek at my experience.  It's..a few more paragraphs than I intended, even, so that's likely an indication of just how much I could say about the game.  Something to look forward to, I guess.  But for now, my experience has been largely positive, and I'm glad I have it.  Especially since I'll be able to participate in the 'launch campaign' that'll start next week I believe.  Thanks to the Dynasty Warriors Next LiveArea for that, since I likely wouldn't have known about it any other way. the point, I'm sure.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Have to Do News

Even though I could go on and on and on about my Vita and how I got Dynasty Warriors Next today and played it and spent entirely too much money also buying the starter kit from GameStop that includes a cleaning cloth, card case for eight games and two memory sticks, a slip-case for the Vita, ear buds that I will never use and screen protectors, I shouldn't.  To cement that fact, I want to do one of these mish-mashy 'here's a few news stories' posts because 1.) Not only is there not a whole lot of news (imagine that!) but, 2.) I need to catch up on posting things that aren't, roughly translated OHMYGODTHEVITAEEEEEEEEE!".  Roughly.  Very roughly.  So throwing down a few things to contemplate will likely help, even if they're just little bits of news.

The above image is a picture tweeted by Hideo Kojima himself to confirm to everyone that, much like with the MGS HD Collection that had Metal Gear Solid 3:  Subsistence, the version of Zone of the Enders 2 included in the ZoE HD Collection will be the "Special Edition" that never saw release in the states.  The Special Edition apparently saw the addition of extra difficulty options (I imagine one is the "European Extreme" equivalent), some more cutscenes and story, and some more missions to play.  The only downside to this that I can foresee is the possibility of having to -play- Zone of the Enders on a really really hard difficulty to appease the trophy gods which I really wouldn't look forward to.  At the same time, there is no other occasion where I would -not- look forward to playing Zone of the Enders 1 and/or 2 (Especially on my Vita, sorry, had to do that one) so more game is much more appreciated.

Some more information on this all would be nice, like when we can expect to buy and play the game for instance, but any news is good news.  Some stylish giant robot action will be exceptional but I don't know when I'll be able to fit it in, as this is officially the year of too many games.  I have two Vita games that I've barely played, three more to buy during the summer, and three PS3 games in the near-immediate future that I have to buy.  You know that I average about 12 games a year, at least games -from- that year, and already I have eight on my plate, technically speaking, before I've even started the year proper!  But there is always time for Zone of the Enders and that's why I'm excited for the Vita version since, as a basic fact, I just have more time with the hand-held.  It is, in fact, sitting right in front of me as I type, eagerly awaiting a push of the PS button so I can rip away the lock screen to play again.  Which reminds me - Note to self:  Look for Zone of the Enders Wallpapers.

Speaking of this being the year of too many games, Sega of America has teased the next Dreamcast game to receive the PSN/XBLA port treatment.  With no title.  No characters.  No Release date.  Really no information at all.  So why are people excited for it?  Because it is very obviously motherfucking Jet Set Grind Radio for the Dreamcast.  It doesn't need to be said in anything beyond what was offered in the video.  Funky beats, stylistic approach of visuals and, the tell-tale of all tell-tales, the character boombox at the end from Jet Grind Radio, these are all of the things that point to this thing of beauty becoming an actuality, an answer to so many dreams and hopes.

At least....a possible one.  I don't mean to harsh any buzzes, especially my own, but we did have another game, fairly famous for its soundtrack, having that stripped out when it was re-released because of licensing issues.  I imagine that's the main reason a lot of people have held off on Crazy Taxi, and I should certainly hope that the issue with it is not one with JGR as well, since that will most likely kill a -lot- of desire surrounding it.  About 26 songs (version dependent) is a lot, and while I don't remember if Crazy Taxi saw the majority of the songs taken out or, in fact, all of them, you can bet that if even a one is missing, you will not hear the end of it from the internet.

Still, starting the next group of Dreamcast titles to be released with JGR, music or no, is a hell of a move and makes one wonder just what could possibly be next.  Will the try and top it with the game that will never be finished in Shenmue?  Or the game we never wanted to end in Skies of Arcadia?  Or will they pretend Sonic Adventure 2 was important beyond a few of the stages with fantastic music and pretend it's a bigger deal?  Smart money is probably on the latter of the options, but it's more than possible that all three games will see a release on at least one of these fancy digital platforms before all is said and done.  And let's just hope that if they re-release them all combined on a disk, they don't lock it to 360 and PC only because, damnit, I would've bought it, I don't even care.  Sonic Adventure and the (gimped) Crazy Taxi are more than worth it.

Some of you might remember the year of Amnesia:  The Dark Descent as "When did that come out?", but I'm guessing the vast majority of the internet remembers Frictional Games' horrific first-person romp with some perverse combination of wistful adoration and sheer terror.  So the news that a sequel is being made is likely good and awful news for all since it means another Amnesia game.  This is one of those cases where you can say the exact same thing like "Oh god, Amnesia Sequel!" and the inflection is what makes the case for the joke, but this is the internet and text, so just imagine your own internal dialogue for that.  Because there are certainly things there.

You might wonder about the video I linked above and it's purely for convenience and a point of reference.  I've talked about Helloween4545 several times for the pure simple fact that he is really really entertaining.  That he has a Let's Play of Amnesia:  The Dark Descent is not only expected (given that he's a horror-LPer) but welcome for the obvious facts of topical-ness as well as that it's just absolutely wonderful.  Despite it being hilarious, it allows for moments where you actually can genuinely be frightened by the game.  And that's precisely what The Dark Descent tries to pull from you, that fear and terror you have - it yearns to drag it to the surface and revel as you don't know what to do with it.  It is, actually, a lofty goal that A Machine of Pigs seeks to surpass by not only hitting that bar again (with new tricks, since gamers are likely immune to the ones The Dark Descent employed) but by evoking more feelings than just fear.  I have faith that they'll be able to do just that, though what feelings they're going for, I can't be sure.

While the game is a sequel, it will not be a direct one and the only connection will be that it takes place in the same universe as the first game, though several decades later, bringing it up to 1899.  The Victorian Age will be in full swing in the game, and, if the title is anything to go by, there will likely be heavy usage of machinery and industrialization.  Not only in the puzzle elements of the game, but the driving force behind it - this apparent machine that is 'fit only for pigs. Fit for the slaughtering of pigs.'  I'm not sure just what that means, but I think I'm already getting the chills at the considerations.  With any luck, the game will be out right before Halloween to be perfectly timed for everyone involved.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


If you couldn't guess, the above is my current Page One of my Vita that I bought today, actually held and played with and finally experienced exactly what this machine had to offer.  If you're surprised that my background, rather, that the first place I went to was Drakengard, you clearly don't know me too well but that's okay, I forgive you.  While I haven't gotten to really look around for proper-sized Vita backgrounds just yet, as I assume it'll still be something of a task to do so, I have that and a few others that I'm toying about with the prospect of using so I am not left wanting.  All that aside, I did, obviously, spend the bulk of the night with my Vita after  I finally got home from purchasing it and having it charge and then download and install the update that had been pushed out last week for maps.  Which wasn't painful at all and I wasn't pacing around the house the entire time or anything crazy like that no sir.

My first experience was, clearly, a fantastic one, and I come away, having finally turned it off prior to working on this post, feeling a satisfaction that I didn't quite expect, despite barely dipping into the device whatsoever.  My journey to GameStop didn't yield the results I'd hoped for, unfortunately; while I got my Vita and Uncharted with no hassle (in fact, I forgot to tell the guy I had Uncharted pre-ordered and only by virtue of the magical computer did he grab it), the prospect of owning a 16 gig stick on this way was snatched from me for a brief moment when the clerk, 'Leo' (who was a fantastic guy) told me in no uncertain terms "We're out."  This was directly after he informed me that they did not get nor have any copies of Dynasty Warriors Next for sale, so my response and in fact the only response one could have at that moment was to say, "Aww, man you are killing me here".  A quick assurance that they did, in fact, have more 16 Gig sticks from the other clerk working the store made it alright however and $335.17 later ($35.17 after my gift cards) I exited the store with a big bag of the three mentioned items and a sense of unbridled excitement.

The obvious kink in my aforementioned plan is present now as, with no Dynasty Warriors Next, I cannot play Dynasty Warriors Next before Uncharted:  Golden Abyss which I -actually- have and that presents a rather real and annoying problem.  Namely, after waiting so very very long for this thing, I'm not quite ready to play it since, while I assure you that I am chomping at the proverbial bit here to play Uncharted, I know that when I begin playing it, I will not stop and at the launch of a system, you want to have options or at least the illusion of them.  If I play Uncharted for the simple reason that I can't afford to not play Uncharted, then I will not, then, be playing Uncharted specifically because I want to.  It's insanity in pure text, I realize, but this is what's going on in my head and it's for this reason that I spent the majority of the day playing with Welcome Park, rather than the Gilded Chasm, as it were.

Welcome Park is....well, it's not 'satisfying', but at the same time, it's far more surprising than I had anticipated.  The five mini-games are there simply to do as you have been told - to teach you how to use the functions of the system that are, in fact, so intuitive that you don't really need to be taught them.  Regardless, they're mostly all fun in their own right besides the one that revolves around the camera, since it involves you taking a picture with it and then solving that picture as a sliding tile puzzle of 7, 8, 14 or 15 tiles.  I'm sure it's stated somewhere in the big book of Collected Video Game Knowledge, but in the off-chance it is not:  Fuck sliding tile games.  They are never fun.  They are not fun now, they were not fun when I was a wee young'n playing The Simpsons:  Bart vs. the World, they will not be fun when I'm forty and playing Final Fantasy 16.  It's just never going to happen and their mere existence annoys me beyond words.

However, the other four games (well, three, I don't explicitly count the Sound one as a game) are fun in their own right; the touch screen-based game has the right level of "27 seconds?  Psh, I can get 26" replayability, Face Finder is interesting enough that I actually remembered the name of it and will likely be looking for faces in the real world because of it now, and the Sixaxis game is just....just fun, actually.  I was surprised too, and maybe it's just the twenty minutes of collected time I spent playing with it talking, but I got the trophy for it with no trouble on my first go and have played it three times since, content to just try and hop all those bouncey orbs as a little distraction.  It's not going to sate my gaming desires for long periods of time, but it'll do in a pinch.  I only hope that my quest to Target tomorrow yields positive results as I believe my time with Welcome Park drew to a close earlier and I won't be able to sustain another day on it exclusively.  I guess we'll see, though!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This is Better/Worse Than Christmas Eve

I've frantically searched for hours now for something to write about while also waiting for the Playstation Store to update so I can take care of that over at Penny Arcade, but no matter what I do, everything just comes back around to the Vita.  After hearing about Persona 4 Arena getting localized (Also known as that fighting game with a long name and Persona 3/4 characters), all I could think about was Persona 4:  The Golden, which has a (Japanese) release date as well of June 14th.  I don't know how long the localization will take but I do know that, despite opening a pristine copy of Persona 4 on PS2, I will more than likely buy this to actually play it after playing Persona 3 in some form or fashion.  Even after being pointed towards The Penny Arcade Report as an idea for something to write about, all I could do was zero in on the praise-filled Vita post that is apparently 'obviously' shill work since there's no way anyone respectable could actually, genuinely like the Vita and then write about it.

Vita Vita Vita.  It's just always back to that, and it's exactly like Christmas Eve when you know what you're getting, but haven't gotten to play with it just yet.  Unwrapping it is simply replaced by driving to GameStop, walking in, apologizing for paying with eight cards (seven gift cards from Christmas and such and my credit card for the remainder and tax) and leaving.  This will all be 11 hours from now, give or take.  Then you factor in getting home, charging it for the first time and such, and it likely won't be til the mid-afternoon or evening til I start playing with it, but when I do, it's going to be the best feeling.  I could not be more excited for this and, honestly, I think that's indicative of just how amazing this business can be sometimes, when it can instill this level of passion and excitement by merely existing.  Since that's what the most of it is, really; this is becoming more and more of a reality with every passing hour and this thing that I have been excited about for over a year will be a thing in my hands existing.  A physical, tangible thing that I can then play with to my hearts content as I've wanted to do for months.

It would be hilarious, utterly, utterly hilarious if I just don't know what the hell to do with it when it's primed and ready.  I know it's not going to happen, since the first thing I'll likely do is play around in Welcome Park just to see what that's been about, as well as to get used to the extra features and from there, it'll be a toss-up between playing Dynasty Warriors Next and Uncharted:  Golden Abyss which, despite the great reviews it's getting, I think I'll sideline Uncharted in favor of DW since Uncharted is something I want to savor, whereas I'm simply jonesing for an excuse to slaughter poorly trained soldiers by the thousands and have been since I stopped playing Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3.  It's just a thing that's in me now and I -have- to do it, you know?  Just as a shark has to keep making analogies I have to keep buying games that allow me to depopulate entire countries in a single series of battles.  And playing them.  Playing them like my life itself depends on it.

I would like to use the chance to test out the PSP compatibility with Final Fantasy Tactics:  War of the Lions (despite the fact that I will have to pay another $10 for it which I'm not too fussed about) since my copy of Phantasy Star Portable 2 won't work on the thing just yet (which I -am- fussed about, come on Sega).  Indeed, there's been a rather short list of games (comprising of 12 total that I know about) that won't work on the Vita and Phantasy Star Portable 1, 2 and 2 Infinity (which we never even got, damnit) are on it.  Speculation says that it might be because of the Online Pass dealie that I don't even remember dealing with for Phantasy Star Portable 2, but looking a couple of the other titles on the list (namely Modnation Racers and Patapon 3), I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't have something to do with it.  Though not all to do, since Resistance:  Retribution and Metal Gear Solid:  Portable Ops don't really have any multiplayer to count that I know of, yet they won't work just yet.  It'll get sorted out, hopefully, but if not, I always have my....fairly broken PSP.  ....Eh.  It'll work out somehow.

But I think to start, I'm just going to veg out with Dynasty Warriors for a few hours and then, likely while having it charge, I'll play around with the browser and look about for images to start decorating with.  The fact that you can customize not only the backgrounds of every page of Apps you have, but the screen that greets you when you turn the system on is magical to me and will definitely be something I make use of.  That was a worry I actually had and I'm rather impressed that the Vita handles it and handles it quite as well as it does, since you can have as many or as few apps on a page and shuffle them about so you get the best view of your image as possible.  It's things like that, those little touches, combined with the actuality of the device being a really powerful handheld device, that has me this pumped, which I haven't been quite so since I first started imagining the game I'm setting up (that I haven't forgotten about).  It's a rare feeling, but it's a good one.

I don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight.

Monday, February 20, 2012

More Time With Just Cause 2

I spent more time with Just Cause 2 today and while the in-game counter told me earlier that I was at a little over 9 hours it certainly felt like twice that, but in a good way.  As I figured, the world is a lot more open than AssBro, so I find that I'm completely unimpeded by invisible walls (per se, as they are quite visible) on my ongoing quest for discovery and destruction.  What has been impeding me, however, is apparently poor sight, as I can't exactly blame it on anything else.  Twice now, I've come to a point where the HUD and map tell me I'm a scant few percentage points away from clearing the area and for the life of me, I cannot find the last thing or few things that I need to round it out to an even 100%.  Which is as frustrating as you might think as a base, and even moreso for someone with a little bit of that 'gaming OCD' that may or may not exist in conjunction with seeing numbers next to numbers that aren't the same.

I guess, conceptually, it's not quite as different as scanning areas for ubiquitous MacGuffins of any sort of variety that the game tells you you want to collect for a variety of hastily-crafted reasons (which Just Cause 2 also has), but at least there's the pay-off of blowing it up once you've found it.  It's just different enough, for me at least, to not find it a chore to look for these things which I think makes all the difference in the world.  And it helps that the actual collectibles seem to be perpetually marked on your PDA so it's merely a matter of getting close enough for the in-game HUD to show you that you're near it.  Of course, that makes me wonder why it's not that simple for these destructible buildings and other such structures, but I guess that would just make the game too easy.  Since the good thing about Just Cause 2 is that it's a game about blowing things up.  But there's a case to be made for saying the bad thing about Just Cause 2 is that it's a game about blowing things up.

I've discovered, moreso than I initially thought, that there isn't a whole lot of meat to Just Cause 2 beyond causing chaos.  The story is rather slipshod and poorly acted out, since apparently they wanted to challenge Chrono Cross for the most use of poorly-done and unnecessary accents.  There is a hook that I won't spoil that I came across today that, in most other games I would likely find it so absurd that it was funny for it.  However, here it just felt a little....forced.  Or underwhelming, perhaps, since my reaction to it was basically ".....really?  We're having this?  Well....okay.", rather than a chuckle at it.  Of course, my lack of amusement could've come from having to do the mission prior to the hook three times because of -terrible- checkpoints and a cadre of bullshit soldiers at all four of the locations I had to destroy without getting killed in the meanwhile since even if I was on the last one and died, I would have to do all four all over again.  Which isn't an isolated problem, unfortunately.

I've found that the HEAT system is as finicky as it is bad (likely because the former part of this) since it basically means that, no matter where in the world you are, if you piss off the government, you will never see the end of them unless you parachute slingshot several kilometers away or hide behind the magical 'one building they won't look behind' or something.  It's reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto 3's system of "Six stars means make a grand last stand because you are going to die." which isn't wholly great, unfortunately.  I can sort of see it in some situations, but I was on an oil rig in the middle of the goddamn ocean at one point, systematically destroying everything on it and soldiers kept coming.  Yes, I understand that they can sail/cruise boats there and get on that way, but that doesn't account for just how they -always- managed to get the higher ground on me, especially since I never saw a single helicopter.

It's only mildly annoying until you find yourself in that position of constantly being at low health and having to zip around frantically to avoid damage long enough to regenerate to just past being critically wounded only to get hit with a magic bullet that starts the whole circuit over again.  Then you find yourself with a strange feeling of immortality that is also accompanied by a fear that you are, in fact, not immortal.  Because you're not.  But after you've just come back from the brink of death five times in the span of three minutes, you start to wonder if you -can- die.  And of course, then you do die and it's either mildly irritating to rage-inducing depending on whether or not you're in a mission since, as stated above, dying during a mission generally starts it over again negating that precious, precious progress that comes with making stuff explode.  Then again, the upside is that you get to blow it up -again-, so it's something of a wash, I suppose.

Still, Just Cause 2 is an exceedingly fun game and I guess it's telling that the only complaint I have about it is that it, in fact, sometimes allows me to relive the fun of destroying certain things.  And that I don't have an indicator of where things are that I can then blow up.  And that everything that isn't about blowing stuff up is B-movie quality at best.  Still, I think it's more important for a game to be fun than for it to be technically impressive, so even though it doesn't have both boxes checked, it has the most important one checked.  For the one last day I need between me and the Vita, it'll serve my purposes quite well I should say, and past that we'll just have to see.  I'm not saying I won't play it after the Vita just...likely with lessened frequency up-front.  Until such a point that I'm ready to jump back into the Chaotic land of Panau.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

More Vita Quick Looks

...Because I am a masochist, apparently and I can't stop watching these things despite having no ability to play with one for the long three days that remain.  Three more of the games that I have at least a cursory interest in have Quick Looks, as I imagine the bulk of the Vita's Launch Line-up does, so I decided it was a great idea to give them a look over as, while I doubt any of them will be bought sooner rather than later, there is a good chance that some of them will be accompanying me in my game-playing journeys.  I think it's a safe bet to say that the Vita's launch line-up is fantastic by anyone's standards, but more importantly to me, I'm finding that there's a lot of titles in it that I clearly wouldn't mind getting as well, which is exciting.  While I'm only getting two, that's mostly because of monetary reasons as were that not an object I think I would get all six of the games I've shown off through these two posts if just to try them.

First up is a game from a series that, much like Lumines, I've just never gotten into despite having a genuine interest at checking it out.  Though I guess you could say I have technically dipped my toes into the 'universe' of it as it were with Nobi Nobi Boy, it's still not really the same thing.  Touch My Katamari is the latest version of the Katamari Damacy series that involves you rolling a ball around the world to pick up things to get bigger so you can pick up bigger things and so on and so forth.  It's a simple concept, but the simple ones are oftentimes some of the most pleasing, if just in short bursts.  Though I'm not sure how short each level of the game might be, given that some seem to be based on getting the biggest Katamari as you can in a given time, where others seem to task you with a certain size to reach and grade you on how fast it took to get there.

While I haven't played Katamari games, I've certainly seen them and, as the Giant Bomb crew are quick to point out, it certainly looks like a Katamari game and appears to play as one too.  Though there's not a lot you can do to add to the simple theory in play aside from what's been added in the Vita version in stretching the Katamari tall or wide.  I'm not sure just how much that adds to the game beyond novelty, as I'm not sure if they'd create levels just to cater to those functions, but I'm sure there's some usage in there for it.  And it's something else to do as you roll around, picking up stuff.  I'm not sure I could suggest it adds strategy to the game, but at one point, I do see an area where rolling flat could have certainly made it easier for the guy playing to pick up a bunch of grouped objects though he didn't seem to think of it.

Katamari proves to have all the familiar japanese quirkiness one would hope for in such a game and then some, which will likely appeal to the side of me who ironically or unironically enjoys that sort of thing, though I'm sure it'll make me wonder why they have fully voiced cutscenes, but the King of All Cosmos talks in sound effects when he has been voiced in the past.  Seems like a little bit of an oversight there.  And despite all this, I can't help but wish that it was Nobi Nobi Boy rather than Katamari.  I can only hope that someone decides, down the line a bit, that it would be a good idea to port over the PSN darling for people like me who would enjoy it.  The Vita-exlusive gimmick is there already, as you can just use the touch pads to stretch your Nobi Nobi Boy rather than use the control sticks.  It's a rather perfect fit, I should say.

Super Stardust has built up something of a pretty hardcore following for anyone following all things PSN, so that it's seeing an iteration on the Vita, especially at launch, is no surprise.  It is, again, a rather simple concept in that you have a dual-stick shooter that puts you in the cockpit of a starship whose goal is to blow up a bunch of meteors using all sorts of wild weaponry.  From what I can tell, it has a little Ikaruga flair in it in it since meteors are color-coded (well, more like temperature-coded) and you have two weapons that will exaggerate these conditions, blowing the space rocks up.  As such, the heat ray is for hot rocks and the ice beam is for ice rocks, and while one can take out the other, it's nowhere near as fast or efficient to do so.  All in all, pretty simple right off.

There's more added on top of that of course, as there were mentions of bossfights which I imagine aren't against meteors, which is rather nice.  I don't really know a whole lot here, being someone who hasn't dipped into the series at all, but that's what I can glean from parts of information here and there as well as the quick look above.  I guess, thinking on it, there's not a lot I can say about a twin-stick shooter other than there are things that you shoot and how you shoot them.  Though I must say the game does use colors rather well, and the framerate is absolutely excellent.  Where most games have slowdown as a side-effect, I believe I can safely say the slow-down when you use a special attack like unleashing a black hole or letting loose a volley (which is an understatement) of missiles is intentional for effect.  That's quite refreshing to see when it seems that a lot of the other launch games weren't quite able to lock a framerate at anything.  And for a $10 title that most people might get for free, even, that's quite an introduction to the system.

Modnation Racers:  Road Trip could very well be the last lap for the franchise that's spanned over all three 'recent' Playstation devices with the news that LittleBigPlanet Karting is officially a thing, so I have to wonder if it's worth getting in on it since I can have the more 'complete' version of it, with the ability to play every track that was created for the PS3 version of the game, and have access to all the Mods and Karts created for it as well.  The rationale part of my brain says "No" because I do not, nor have I ever really (beyond a stint with Mario Kart 64 on my N64 which, let's be honest, any game would've been latched on to) been into Kart Racers and my playings with both the PS3 and PSP versions of the game left a little to be desired, having been in the Betas for both by some stroke of luck.  On the other hand, I get to have all the fun of a Single-Player racing experience which I find that much more desirable than a multi-player one, knowing I'm in the minority on this.

Still, the obvious main draw of the game, the creation aspects, have a powerful, powerful pull to me.  As you can tell by reading this blog even, I like just creating things, even if I'm not going to share them or anything.  I could probably spend hours making tracks, mods and karts in the creator, not upload a single one and be perfectly happy with it, though I suspect I might fold eventually.  Still, the mere thought of playing around, making things like makes it really easy to reach for my wallet.  I have to constantly remind myself that there is racing in the game, and regardless of the quality of it, I really don't care for racing games whatsoever, preferring to get where I want to go the way I want to go without being shoehorned one way or another.  As well as that, there are rampant rumors of the AI for the PS3 version, at least having what's affectionately referred to as "Cheater AI" which can't make a racing game much more fun than it is at base.

Again, any of these games and the games from the previous post have a potential to have a spot in my Vita library at some point in the future, and from what I've seen, I wouldn't mind it in the least.  Modnation Racers is likely going to get a spot despite the obvious because I know I'm going to get it and make things and hate myself for spending $20-30 on a game that I won't play, but rather just use as a tool box, but I know me and I know it's going to happen.  Katamari is likely as well, as it seems like a fun little quirky game and perhaps my purchase will let Bandai Namco know that I like this type of game, so I'll be able to get what I actually want.  Time will tell, I suppose, and all I can do is watch and rewatch these videos again and again, wishing that it was me playing them.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Merits of Mindless Fun

By this point in the game's lifespan, you've either heard of or played Just Cause 2, assuredly, so you pretty much already know what it's about.  Until today, I was only in the former category, but with scant few days before the Vita is in my grasp and boredom ceases to exist for months, I've got a little blank area with gaming.  While I am still pumped to start a new game in Alpha Protocol, I know there's no way I'd be able to get through it in four days of playtime, so yesterday and today, I decided on simply trying out a few of the games I either haven't played or have neglected for some time.  Yesterday's time was spent with Sengoku Basara 3:  Samurai Heroes and today was spent with Grapple Hook:  The Game.  Because honestly, who goes ten seconds without using the thing once you finally understand just how to use it?  I didn't, at the very least.

Just Cause 2 doesn't pretend to be anything beyond what it is; good ol' mindless fun, and good for it on that, because there's absolutely no way the game could be taken seriously.  While there's a story with....questionable voice acting, it merely exists as a backdrop for the carnage you're going to create on a large scale over your time with the game.  When the first mission entails you jumping from a helicopter to catch up to a flying dead body (which would not work) and then parachuting into an enemy base that you are expected to not only collect items from, but kill everyone there and blow up a few buildings or installations for their trouble before using a grappling hook to fly away in a helicopter, you know what you signed on for.  Added to that is the fact that not only is the above carnage encouraged and fun, but it's required in the sense that you have to do so to fill up the 'Chaos' meter which, at certain levels, will unlock Story-centric missions as well as a few other random things.  And if there was ever a case to make for "Required doesn't always mean not fun", it would be this, since I am more than happy to tool around until I can tear down a statue with nothing beyond a cable and a vehicle, or blow up a gas station by bailing out of a speeding car heading into one of the pumps.

In fact, after the short story missions that the game opens with, that's all I did.  I'm sure there was other stuff I could've done, found missions to do for one of the factions available or something, but I just wasn't interested which I fear might become a hurdle in the game.  Much like how I loathed not being able to just explore as I wished in Assassin's Creed:  Brotherhood, I imagine I'll feel a similar annoyance at ending my destructive shenannigans to actually play the game, though I suspect it's quite a bit more lax on that than AssBro was.  I am a little unimpressed with how far the destructible elements seem to be spread, however, as I flew all around the starting island with the grappling hook and parachute and, aside from a few spots with a few Fuel Tanks and the like, the majority of my findings were simply water towers.  Which were great to blow up and in fact it was fairly funny to watch as my character (who might just be referred to as Scorpion/Scorpio?) flew off of one after it violently exploded, but I want more.  I suppose I might have been spoiled by my time with Red Faction:  Guerrilla, in the sense that I want to level all of the things and I know that's just impossible.

When I wasn't looking for things to blow up, however, I did enjoy some time simply playing around with the double-hook function of the Grappling Hook which, and I say this with only minimal exaggeration, might have been one of the greatest ideas in anything ever.  There's something immensely funny about sticking these digital crash test dummies, essentially, with a grappling hook and then attaching the other end to a moving vehicle to watch them get dragged.  As well as being chased by a squad of cars who suddenly watch one of their own fly up in the air doing flips simply because a cable caught them and a part of the road that they just passed at 80 Miles per hour.  Or using that same ideology to send a car flying off a bridge, instantly neutralizing any danger it might possess.  Or even just sticking an enemy up to swing about impotently from a lamp post as you fill him with lead flying from a sub machine gun like a sick game of pinata.  I could go on and on, I'm sure you realize, and with good reason because it is just that versatile.

Even minus all that fun you get, it is as incredibly potent as a navigational device as you might expect since not only does it zip you, near instantly, from Point A to Point B with minimal fuss, but it also has another use in conjunction with your backpack that apparently has an infinite amount of parachutes in it.  I'll admit that not since Grand Theft Auto:  San Andreas have I ever tried to control a parachute in a video game (at least, that I remember) so it was a bit strange and I'm sure the physics for it also exist outside of reality, but both tools in conjunction with one another offer you near-super hero levels of traversability which is a word, I don't even care Firefox shut up.  Not only that, but it's insanely intuitive for as complicated as you think it might be.  Eyeball a location you want to get to and if you can't just zip there, look at somewhere you can zip to.  Zip and slam X while you're in the air to slingshot out with your parachute and from there either guide it with more grappling shots or zip to your desired location, should you be within range of it.  It's astounding.

If I could complain about the game at all, which I find that I can, quite easily so, it'd likely be about the fact that I am dying a hell of a lot.  I'm only playing Normal since I threw it in to show off to some others and even with that, it seems that the health system is not quite up to par since there's rarely any feedback from being shot or hit aside from when you're critical and the screen starts to pulse red.  Afterwards, if you manage to not get hurt for a few moments, you'll regenerate to -just outside- of critical and no higher, meaning that even a single shot will bring on the red screen pulse again until you happen upon a Med Kit.  On top of that, the duration of the double-hook is unfortunately a little shorter than I would like.  While it's fun to hook someone to an already moving vehicle, I wanted to hook someone to a vehicle that I could then drive, dragging them along behind, but I find that before I've even begun speeding up, the hook has undone already and I'm towing nothing.  Similarly so, people just do not hang for long enough from structures that I want them to swing from.  Still, little troubles with a game that more than makes up for it with fun.

I imagine it's going to be a quick few days with Just Cause 2 as my day-filler, so let's hope for that, if just so I can shut up about not being able to wait anymore.  I'm almost annoying myself with it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

This Wait is Killing Me

The wait for the Playstation Vita, of course.  As you might have already seen, Chance got one after paying a small fortune and despite that, I am so jealous.  Every time I get a moment to just sit here and think, I think about how awesome it would be if I had mine and could just....sit here and fiddle with it, changing the backgrounds and stuff.  And then I think about the fact that he's already done all this and I would honestly hate him for this if he weren't so awesome.  My time will come, however and when it does, it will be glorious, and it just can't come fast enough, in all honesty.  But in my waiting, I've decided it's a good idea to take a look at the Vita's early offerings via other people who actually have a Vita and these games - Namely the fine chaps at Giant Bomb who have a whole host of "Quick Looks" for the Vita Launch games.  I figure I might as well share a few of these as well as my impressions of them.

First up is the first one of these I watched, actually.  I've been talking with my buddy Kaseius who has been debating, almost endlessly it seems, between grabbing a 3DS and a couple games, as it seems to be ever-so-conveniently inexpensive at the moment or a Vita.  I'm fairly confident he will own both at some point in time (and in fact already owned a 3DS before, but sold it a week prior to the announcement of the price-cut/free games.  He was not happy.) so it's more a matter of the -now-.  While my purchases have been solidly put in place since the beginning, his are a little more nebulous and, when handed the prospect of a potential Buy 2 Get 1 Free sale at Target for Vita games, he decided it would be prudent to look through the launch games in the event that he went with the Vita.  All this ended up in my confession that I haven't actually played Lumines in any form and, in fact, have no idea what it is.  To which, I was directed to the above video.

After watching it, I'm still not quite sure I know what it is, but I don't believe that's a bad thing.  It seems like it's just meant to be a game that, if you've had a rough day or what-not and have to find something to chill you out over the course of half an hour or so, you just sink that time into Lumines and walk away refreshed.  At least, that's the impression I got from Joystiq's JC Fletcher (who I agree with..maybe 60% of the time lately it seems) who reviewed it, saying, "My time playing Lumines has been the only time in the last week during which I wasn't panicking. I come out of a 45-minute session feeling rested and kind of euphoric.".  'How's that for an endorsement' indeed.  I find that I'm strangely attracted to the idea of buying it now with only this minimal bit of exposure, but I will likely wait a bit, as I'm not quite sure it's my type of game, which is to say that I will likely enjoy it, but not in a way that makes me keep going back to it.  Maybe some day I'll have to eat those words, but we'll see.

Part of my apprehension might come from the fact that I've never been a fan of Tetris and, let's be honest, that seems to be where Lumines has drawn its inspiration from.  In Lumines favor, however, they've clearly carved out their own niche, found a way to make it a different game from Tetris, and that way involves some groovin' tunes and funky visuals, of which I expect I might be a fan of.  All the extra stuff that seems to be new for this version, like the avatars that change how you might think of playing by adding certain bonuses or the like helps with this as well, and while I don't understand it all, it's interesting at the least.  The soundtrack for this version has me a little intrigued as, even though I haven't heard of 90% of the people in it, it still manages to have The Chemical Brothers, Benny Benassi and Amon Tobin whom I've all heard of at minimum.  I'm sure it's absolutely lovely while playing the game.

Now, it's obvious that I'm getting Dynasty Warriors Next because, as I've stated several times before, I am just a whore for Warriors games.  And even though I'm (rightly) pissed at KOEI for the latest announcement that Warriors Orochi 3 is PSN-Only for PS3 (In North America at least for stupid reasons that I am not even about to claim are all Sony's, considering the fact that there have been games for PS3 on disk with no English dub before.  Not even counting Yakuza!  Way of the Samurai 3 didn't have any english vocals.....but to be fair, I don't think it had -any- vocals.  Still.) I'm planning on grabbing this, provided the GameStop I go to has a copy.  And in all honesty, nothing in the video was going to sway me on that purchase.  In fact, a few key things have almost assuredly pushed me more fully into it.

Despite the obvious blase attitude and snark held by the Giant Bomb cast, as that is the only attitude they are contractually allowed to have about a Warriors game, being games journalists and all, they offered valuable insight into the game to spot a few crucial things.  First off is the apparent inclusion of "Empires Mode" elements, insofar as having the map of China divided into territories that you can invade and conquer, as in the previous Empires games.  It appears to be the 'main' portion of the game, titled as the "Campaign Mode" and is, in fact, the first billing in the menu, but Conquest Mode is there as well which I imagine will be much like its PS3 counterpart.  Especially given that there's Create-a-Warrior in the game, meaning you can, in theory, make your own character that will cut a swath across China and wrest victory from Wei's grasp.  Or, I guess Jin's grasp is more appropriate.  Regardless.

It has to be said that I physically cringed at hearing him try to pronounce the names.  "Cao Cao" as "Cow cow" is understandable as KOEI's localization crew thought that's how you pronounced it for five main games, but "Jee-how dune" is where I draw the line, okay?  And "Jee-how YAHN" isn't any better either.  Play the game, listen to it, and learn to pronounce, alright?  Awesome.  Something else that is greatly appreciated is the inclusion of Item Slots finally finally finally.  As shown in the video, it seems there's a spot for a Mount, an Orb, and five Items/Accessories as in previous games that will no doubt assist in making the game more customizable to your tastes and play style, as well as giving you extra incentive to play, if just to find all these things.  In the past, getting the mounts has been an arduous process, almost in line with being a 'secret unlockable' at times, so here's hoping that tradition comes back as well, as I would like to feel like I have a 'quest' in which the reward is Red Hare, personally.

Something I'm not at all thrilled about with, however, is the duel system as it's shown off in the video.  While I imagine it's a lot easier than he made it look, given that he clearly doesn't care about the game, it still looks clunky and annoying at best.  While I get that they wanted to bring something new to it, I can't imagine it'll be much fun after the first five duels or so, after which it'll just be a chore - especially against better duelists like Lu Bu or Guan Yu.  Still, I'll have to play with it myself before I can really pass judgment on it, and aside from that, it looks just fine.  Given that I haven't played a Warriors game in a while (though I have been tempted to throw in Ken's Rage, oh so tempted), I'll likely be ready to jump right into it when I grab it, and I'm eagerly awaiting that time.

The last game is something I've been on the fence about since it was first announced because while I love me some Ninja Stealth games, Tenchu has taught me that I am, in fact, not good at them.  So Shinobido 2:  Revenge of Zen's mission was basically to convince me that I could get it, play it and not be terrible....but I'm not quite sure it's done that.  Based solely on the fact that, as the Giant Bomb guys were quick to point out, the game looks a lot like Tenchu.  That's understandable, of course, considering it's the same team and/or dev that made the old Tenchu games (or so I'm told), but in that same vein, I know I am bad at Tenchu games, as I said, so I'm wondering about that.  It seems to default back to the "Stealth is so crucial that you're punished for being bad at it" with the less-than-stellar combat system which isn't a good sign.

By that same measure, the guy playing this seems to have been showing just as much thought and care in playing this as in playing Dynasty Warriors Next (read:  not much) so it might be a rewarding game if you play it right and might, in fact, not be too difficult to play correctly.  And in another play to the game's favor, it does look measurably better than it has in promotional materials so far, though that might also be in part to only seeing it through a camera, rather than seeing it on the screen itself.  It doesn't look -amazing-, nor like it's taking advantage of any 'next-gen' graphics or animations, but it's not as 'early-PS2' as it looked before.  To me, at least.  It also looks like there are a few things to the game beyond "Tenchu, but on Vita" as well in the Alchemy portion (which also includes Near functionality which I can't -wait- to mess around with....hoping that it works out in the middle of nowhere where I am) which means that there will be material collecting which always adds -time- to a game, even if it feels like a grind sometimes.

Only a few more days until I can have a Vita in my hands and, with any luck, there'll be some demos for a few of these games so I can try them out.  I'm not too optimistic for this stuff right off the bat, but I can have some lofty hopes for it, at least.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review - Alpha Protocol

I'm going to be upfront and honest here and say that, when I first started playing Alpha Protocol, I really really didn't think I'd walk away from the game with a positive experience.  In fact, after playing a goodly bit of the game, I very nearly turned it off, ejected the disk from my PS3, cased it and shelved it so I could move on to something else, since as I keep mentioning that I have games I should be playing right now to get through my backlog just so I don't have games standing around that I've never played.  But I continued playing because there was something very very special that assured me there was goodness in the game; I just had to pry it out to examine it, to quantify it and to be satisfied.  I will suggest to you now that I have found it because as of this writing, I've completed the game fully twice over now and, backlog be damned, I'm probably going to play it again.  There's something to be said about a game that instills such an excitement in me that I -want- to play it again and again.

I'm confident in saying that that -thing- that I took so long to find in the game is, in fact, not something that is in the game, but rather is the game, though in a very strange way.  It's a little hard to explain, but the gameplay is, in fact, quite far removed from the actual game, in so much as the game is the dialog portions of Alpha Protocol.  Not only do they dominate a good portion of playtime, but I firmly believe that they hold a lot more sway in the overall progress of the story (or rather, the narrative you're playing through, since there's....honestly more than one 'storyline' to the game, despite the whole thing going from Point A to Point B) than most of what you do while you're walking around and killing or not killing guys.  In fact, the only thing more important than the dialog choices you make in the game is who you kill and who you don't kill.  And there are quite a few options there that present themselves over the course of your narrative.

The game actually offers one of those rare occasions where I've thought about it, a lot in fact, and I honestly don't know just what all to say about it.  My brain goes to the moments that I went "Eeeee!" or "YES!" or similar exclamations of joy to rather than trying to really, cohesively, think any part of it through to describe it.  Still, I guess everyone first looks to the part where you move sticks and press buttons to make things happen, since the gameplay portion of a game tends to define it.  As I said, that's not the case here; Alpha Protocol's Meat and Potatoes as it were, is not defined by the portion of the game where you walk or sneak around and either stab, choke out, or shoot guys in a variety of manners to get to the next objective.  Though it -is- there and it -is- something to consider about the game.

Alpha Protocol is definitely a Third-Person shooter at heart, and while there's elements of melee and stealth, Shooting is going to be 90% your preferred method of dispatching foes unless you play really sneaky and are really patient enough to stalk all your foes and take them out with a choke out or a knife to the carotid artery.  That option is readily available to you, of course, as the scenarios are pretty open enough that you can handle everything depending on what your play style is on that go through.  The basic three types would likely be Stealth, which mixes a combination of light arms and melee, High-Powered, where you're all heavy artillery all the time and able to take some hits yourself, or High-Tech where your main weapons aren't the guns you carry but rather the grenades and mines stuffing your pockets.  I guess to explain this a little better, I have to explain the Skills System a little better first, though.

This Image shows off the Skills available to you and this is basically what determines, obviously, how effective you are with certain things.  Each skill has 15 ranks that you spend the AP you gain by leveling up or doing special actions on to rank up to get a certain addition or benefit to that skill.  It's basically me going out of my way to explain a system that you all know how it works and I'm kind of wasting time.  Now, during a single play, you'll only be able to have the -chance- to level up three skills to the max of 15 ranks and these are determined by your specialization.  You likely won't get the AP to max all three skills, depending on what they are, but the chance is there at least.  Again, the specializations are as above, Spy for Stealth, Commando for the action-oriented and Engineer for the techies out there.  Or you can also pick Operative which will let you decide which three skills you want to have the chance of maxing if you want, say, Stealth, Sabotage and Toughness to have a stealth-focused character who (if you have any AP to spend on Toughness rather than Stealth) can take a few knocks without toppling over.

This system is all at once great and awful as there will likely be -one- skill that you really really want to pump up and there's little restriction for most of the game to stop you from getting one as high as possible before moving on.  On my first run, my stealth-centric run, I pretty much focused purely on leveling up stealth for quite a while before I realized the skills I got there were mostly secondary and that I needed a primary mode of attack, so that I finally started ranking Pistol up.  Thankfully I did it when I did because the Pistol-specific skill it offered is basically the best offensive skill in the game, allowing you to literally enter bullet time and line up up to six shots (at max level) that will hit almost simultaneously as the world slows to a near halt.  Doing this and lining up critical hits on boss characters (Basically wait til the crosshair turns red which takes a couple seconds only) will take off a good chunk of their health and even the cooldown doesn't take long enough to not encourage you to rely on it.

But you all know me and you know that if melee is in a game, I definitely have to explore it, and that's exactly what I did.  The line doesn't offer a lot, really, starting off with primarily adding more damage for your attacks and then giving a "Rage" ability that I honestly never bothered using.  It probably would've been helpful, but I simply didn't see enough reason to use it for one reason or another.  It's not until about halfway through when you get two abilities that Martial Arts pay off, but it pays dividends quite handily.  The first ability just lets you clear up your personal space with a roundhouse kick (yes, pictured above) and it is quite handy for enemies that like to get right up in your face and smack you with their gun before backing up, preventing you from punching them back, provided you can use it at the right time, as getting attacked will completely stop the animation.  But the other attack is the reason to bother with Martial Arts at all.  It's called a Running Knee Strike and it does -exactly- what you think it does.  While sprinting, if you hit the melee button, Thorton leaps and slams his knee right into the face of the nearest thug, sending him flat on his back so that you can finish them off with a stomp.  It's not very stealthy (and, in fact, sprinting cancels your 'go invisible' stealth ability) but it's satisfying and that's really what matters.

Something else that makes up a large portion of the 'gameplay' part of the game is the mini-games that are associated with pretty much anything technologic.  They're mostly innocuous and, while they might not be enjoyable, they're not -terrible- either.  The one for hacking gives you a large grid where every box has a number or letter that keeps changing rapidly over the course of seconds, so that you can't stop and see any single one.  The only boxes that don't do this, and instead feature static letters and numbers are what you're suppose to look for as you have two strings of random characters that you then line up over those areas and lock in.  Similarly, bypassing keypads involves looking at a mess of circuits that twist and turn across themselves and trying to match up where they start in numerical order.  Easy ones tend to have you go from 1 to 5 sequentially where the hardest have up to 10 circuits that are wrapped in manners most foul, intent on confusing you.  The worst, by far, is the lock-picking mini-game, however, which involves you using the pressure sensitive shoulder buttons to move pins up to a certain point that is pixels thick and locking it in place.  It takes immense precision in a limited time and is terrible for both those reasons and -double- terrible for both those reasons put together.  Thankfully, 3 AP ensures that if you're carrying enough EMP charges, you'll never have to play the lock-picking game.

As I've gone on and on about several times now, though, the Conversation and Relationship system is where Alpha Protocol's bread is buttered and this right here is exactly what kept me in the game even when I was pretty sure I was done.  I wanted to see how this aspect of the game played out and it did not disappoint because, while many games try the approach of "Everything you do matters and has consequences!" few games really have that, in practice.  Using another one of these games that you all know I actually like as an example is Heavy Rain since, while it broadcasts the fact that 'The characters can die!' and they -can-, they can't die 85% of the time you're controlling them which makes it a bit moot.  Alpha Protocol on the other hand....yeah, those things matter.  Something you do at the start of the game will stick with you til the end and I'm not even saying that as anything specific, just generally stating, no matter what you do, it's gonna stick.  'You're gonna carry that weight', if I may steal a line.

I'm going to use my own example of my two play throughs as an example, and I'll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible.  Without the context, names like "Grigori" and "Surkov" are just names, after all and at worst, it'll just give you an idea of how you can 'game' the system as it were, though that should be the last thing on your mind at any given point.  As I might've said, my first Run-through was as James Bond Michael Throton, Spy Extraordinare - You only see him if he wants you to.  Friend to the men, easy on the eyes and charming to the ladies, he just had a certain way about him that made the majority of the people around him like him and trust him enough.  That charm didn't work on everybody, but it worked on enough people for him to get by, of course.  However, on my second run, I played Mike Thorton, Certified Ass-kicker.  He was a recruit (means you get some extra dialogue at the start and no AP to start with) and overcompensated for that green-ness by yelling at everyone that got in his way, if not worse.  There were no prisoners taken by Mike, so the goal of anyone to exist in the area he was around in was to simply -get away- before he saw you.  (The names are my call, not the games, by the way, just adds a little flavor)

The whole of the narrative is basically just framing certain situations that happen (though they don't -all- happen, depending on what you do and how you do things) so when you have some overlap, you have a way to truly appreciate how different things can be.  At a certain point, you need to get in touch with an informant by the name of Grigori to try and find some connections in Moscow.  Michael Thorton tried to chat up Grigori to find that he was rather lukewarm to Michael's attempt at charm and humility, wishing to simply cut to the chase.  He didn't have a very high opinion of Michael, as he seemed to pre-occupied with talk rather than getting anything done.  Still, he was given the name of "Surkov" as a local to investigate in relation to what he was looking for and sent about his way.  Upon returning to the safehouse, Michael found an email from Grigori that says he put him on his short list of Clearinghouse (the black market, basically) sellers so Michael could buy something if he felt it was necessary.

Mike Thorton, on the other hand, had no time for this small talk.  Grigori was rather evasive to start because of Mike's gruff demeanor and reputation, thinking him as some thug.  Those thoughts might not have been so unfounded, however, as, in an attempt to get him to talk, Mike slammed Grigori's head against the bar and then broke a Vodka bottle over him, taunting him all the while.  Subtle he is not, but it was effective as Grigori, scared out of his wits, offered the name of "Surkov" and begged and pleaded for him to believe that that's all he had to offer.  Stating that their next meeting would not go so well, Mike left and returned to the safehouse where he found an email that said Grigori had added Mike to his list of Clearinghouse sellers with a discount to 'extend an olive branch', as he obviously offended the American.  He encouraged Mike to buy whatever he wanted, as Grigori's cut of the profits might just pay for his medical bills that he accrued after their little meeting.

As you can see, both scenarios had the same rough outcome (and as such, it's not the best example as certain scenarios have very different endings for such varying actions) but both also had very different consequences later on down in the game.  Not being seen as a threat, Michael Thorton was welcomed rather warmly by Surkov when they finally met and Surkov relied on Michael's help to get out of a sticky situation; directly after which he offered Michael all the information he needed if he could just meet him elsewhere.  On the other hand, Mike Thorton has a rather dangerous reputation, one of a wild, unpredictable agent, so upon reaching the complex Surkov was at, Mike found that Surkov's normal security detail had been replaced by heavily armored Marines who, nonetheless, let Mike in, as Surkov still wanted to talk to him.  Upon meeting Surkov, he expressed a distaste for the American's methods, but they nonetheless formed a shaky alliance to get out of the aforementioned sticky situation alive.  Directly afterwards, when they were in the clear, Surkov thought it was wise to pull a gun on Mike Thorton.

This was not wise.

Mike Thorton disarmed the man and, when his questions weren't answered fast enough, he shot out one of Surkov's knees.  (These were all conscious choices made by me, by the way.  It's not automated at all depending on how you've played til that point)  Crippled and bleeding out, Surkov told him what he wanted to know, though not in as much detail as Michael received, not that it was necessary.  The two parted ways, never to see each other again, which they were both grateful for.  An onlooker to the timeline of the events even commented on the fact that Surkov had a limp after the meeting which was a nice little touch of flavor that the game is basically built on.  Again, two different scenarios, they go -roughly- the same way, but have wildly different context and outcomes in this case and this is just yet another small portion of the game.  The game is filled with these, and they all matter and it's brilliant.  This is precisely what gets me excited for the game and precisely what makes me want to play it yet again, because there is territory yet untouched even with two full, complete play-throughs under my belt.

Graphically, Alpha Protocol is not going to blow you away and, in fact, will sometimes bug you.  I don't know if it's exclusive to the PS3 version or if it's just in the game as Obsidian are not known for the highest QA standards, but I got a lot of artifacting in spots, points where entire halves of character faces would blink black for a moment, and similar such visual issues.  Aside from that, the faces look good, not great, animations are janky more than they're not, and lighting works well enough, but there's no particular area where I was impressed.  The graphics are, basically okay, even looking really decent at parts, but they're never going to make you think you're 'watching a movie' or anything like that.  Which isn't a strike against it, so much as it's just a little unfortunate as there was likely time that could've been applied to sprucing it up.

As far as sound goes, the actual music is decent background noise, but I never heard a track that stuck with me or made me really try and seek it out in or out of the game.  Aside from the few times where they make use of licensed music which was the stand-out track.  I'm not sure if that's for the novelty of having a song like that in the game that you know already, or because it's genuinely something that sticks more than the music in the actual game, but I know the night after I played the part where I heard that, I was listening to it on youtube, and not so with the rest of the game soundtrack.  Again, nothing terrible, just nothing all that memorable either, so I can't really say much about it as a whole beyond that.  Though one of the songs towards the end of the game caught my attention a little and I might seek that out, if just for the way it opens.  I'd have to find it in the game again, first, however.

Another area where things really shine, thankfully, is the voice-work.  A quick glance through at the IMDB page for Alpha Protocol will show you names that you might not be all that familiar with (beyond Nolan North who, like Steven Blum in Shadows of the Damned, is recognizable but not instantly so), but I assure you that at some point in life, you've heard these people speak and it's a pleasure to hear them again.  The biggest example of this is Jim Cummings who has been in everything from Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse (and other Disney things by extension of voicing Pete for just about every appearance since 1992) to Mass Effect and (hilariously) the Splatterhouse remake.  Regardless, there was not one point where I rolled my eyes at someone's voice, nor accent (though a case could be made for SIE, I guess, YMMV) which by my metric means the voicework was grand.

I imagine that's where a lot of the budget went as well, as the flexible nature of the game means a lot of detail work with the script, which means a lot of lines to write and, more importantly, VA.  And this is where everyone involved had to put their best on, as if you don't voice these things properly, when they're put together, it's -obvious- that it's been cut and rifled in for if X meets Y criteria.  If I wanted to be hyper-sensitive to these things, I could probably point out a few points where it's obvious that this scene is only here if you've been evil or somesuch, but on the whole, there's really no egregious examples.  That's impressive on its own since, like I said, there are a lot of areas where this exact thing could come up and, with the very varied types of play that I went through, I imagine I would've come across one or two examples that I could throw down here, but nothing springs to memory.  Congratulations go to the voice actors and the people directing them for that.

The Good
  • Fantastic Conversation system that, frankly, kept me playing when I hated the game
  • Slightly related to the above, the Relationship system is interesting in how it works and benefits the player
  • Everything, Everything you do matters.  Lots of games try this, few succeed
  • The 'gameplay' actually does get better the more you play and molds to the style you're going for
  • Stealth and Pistols border on OP which is refreshing
  • Seriously, that Running Knee Strike redeems the melee system.  When I used it the first time, I couldn't help but shout "YES!" in joy
  • Voice-work is on par with the best parts of the game rather than the majority of it
  • While the narrative generally has you go from Point A to Point B, the context is always different
 The Bad
  • The game is -not- easy to get into and might, in fact, make you want to quit playing
  • Until it clicks, it's more 'interesting, but flawed' than 'magical' (which it ends up being)
  • Graphics and animations are just barely sub-standard, could've used a little more attention
  • The soundtrack is nothing special
  • 'That goddamn Brayko fight' is something you'll hear from the people turned off by Alpha Protocol and mostly for good reason
  • The lock-picking mini-game can go right to hell
  • There are so many alarms and they go off and it's always annoying
  • There are all sorts of tiny nits to pick that aren't big enough to mention individually, but build up
Mogs Says
Despite what I though at first, Alpha Protocol ends up being something really really special that has unfortunately been overlooked because there is a very real case to be made of it being not a great game.  It has great, great aspects to it and if you put enough time into it, it pays off in spades.  It's rare that a game makes me want to play it, so much as I'm happy to do so, but I know I need to put at least one more play into the game before I'm done with it.  And that entire play-through will feature me with a big, big grin on my face, just because it's genuinely exciting and interesting to see what happens when you do things differently in it.  I strongly recommend you give it a shot with my warning that, again, it takes quite a bit of work before it clicks, but when it does, it's all worth it.