Flower went up on the PSN games section this week and after hearing about it from one of the final 1UP Show videos, I had to check it out. It's short, but immensely satisfying.
There's so little to Flower that it's hard to know what to say. The controls are simple: press any button to create wind, and use the SIXAXIS functionality of the controller to steer. As you float around on the wind, you coax the flowers populating the field to bloom, reinvigorating the area a la Okami.
The game has this sort of Zen feeling. The sound of the wind blowing around you combined with the ambient music makes Flower a very relaxing experience, a good cool-down after a frustrating or intense gaming session.
What makes it all work so well is the amazing graphics. Blades of grass haven't been a big deal since just after the move to 3D, but Flower manages to take one of the most basic tech demo elements and turn it into a main feature. The environments sit somewhere between photorealism and hyperrealism.
On the RebelFM podcast, Nick Suttner likened the sixth and final stage to Area 5 of Rez. The comparison works well, as you start to see the pieces of what you've been doing come together. The experience of reviving and building had a positive impact for me, improving my mood long after I'd finished. Video games: My Antidepressant?
GamePolitics has a poll up, asking if Resident Evil 5 is racist. The whole argument fascinates me, and I’m quite honestly undecided. I’m standing in the middle and I can see both sides easily, though I’ll admit I lean a bit toward understanding the side that feels the game is… well, not racist, but ignorant.
The problem with the other side is that the arguments fall a little flat for me. It’s just a game, some say. They just happen to be in Africa, others say.
Sure, it’s just a game! Birth of a Nation was just a movie, right? And all those Mammy and Bo Jangles knick-knacks are just objects? I’m not saying Resident Evil 5 compares to those. Where the comparison does match up is that it’s not just a game. Jenga is just a game, and Tetris is just a game. Resident Evil 5 has aspects of culture infused that something simpler might not. Anything that involves characters and especially humans is going to incorporate the biases of the producers of that media. Resident Evil is not depicting the chance and chaos of reality – an intentional decision was made to take the game to Africa. I respect the storyline decision, and I think it takes the gameplay in an interesting direction.
What those arguments really don’t take into account is the long history of Africans and blacks in general being depicted as sub-human or savage. In this case, you have the powerful white man with his guns and the light-skinned African woman, shooting down men one after another. Back when Resident Evil zombies were decayed humps of flesh, this wasn’t as big a deal; now that they’re parasites hiding in human skin—for all intents and purposes human—the race of the enemy is more apparent.
Another aspect of the game muddled in culture and bias is the sex of the secondary protagonist, Sheva Olimar. She’s a real mixed bag.
On the good side, she’s a strong female character who stands on equal footing with the other protagonist, Chris. She’s capable, self-sufficient, and most importantly, playable – and she’s a minority. That’s pretty cool. At the same time she’s sort of white-washed with a lighter accent and lighter skin to make her more accessible.
I think both the race and sex problems of Resident Evil 5 have strong roots in Japanese culture. Japan isn’t as experienced with civil rights as much of the world. The culture is pretty homogenous and the main exposure most people have to other races is television and movies. Of course on TV, black people are: athletes, criminals, rappers, a combination of those, or they are Barack Obama. The race problem with RE5 is not one of racism or hatred so much as it is ignorance. I don’t think there’s any negative intent with the game. It’s just that the Japanese developers are entirely immune to the things that make us so sensitive in western culture. I sort of envy that. At the same time, this game has been crafted from the beginning for a western audience, so this oversight is a bit of a surprise.
I don’t think there’s a really good answer to this. I think it highlights where Japan is at with regard to civil rights, and I think it also highlights how sensitive we can be to something that is a product of cultural ignorance rather than any kind of hate or disrespect.
Even having finished Mirror’s Edge, I’ve noticed that my reaction to the game hasn’t changed very much. Specifically, my reaction to the long, long falls and the big gaps that populate the game. I tense up as if I were
As I head toward the halfway point in Mirror’s Edge (I’ve been playing for 15 minutes, so I should be close!), I’m noticing that my physical reaction to the game really isn’t changing. Each leap between buildings make me tighten up as if I were concerned about really falling and really going splat.
The game itself is, well, okay at best, when taken as a total package. The concept is great: First person free-running/parkour. This is one of the few games to take the shooter right out of First Person Shooter. When the game works, it works. It’s one of the most unique experiences from 2008. Sadly, there are so many times where it’s more frustration than fun that it’s hard to recommend more than a rent.
One of my main problems is times where I felt the game just wasn’t recognizing my button presses. I know, I know, classic argument. The sun was in my eyes, the wind took the ball, I totally pressed that button. Too many times, though, I would be running for a gap, hit the jump button, and fall in a nice smooth arc to my death as the wind rushed by my head.
Final word on Mirror’s Edge? An absolute must-rent. Buy it if you end up liking it.
Over at MTV’s Multiplayer blog, news is in that the industry is up 13% overall. Here’s my question, though. Separate out the Wii and DS, pretend Nintendo doesn’t exist. NOW how’s the Industry doing? After such an amazing Fall lineup, I can’t imagine it’s doing too poorly, but I’d like to see what percentage of that growth the Wii and the DS account for.
The Wii is such a juggernaut of a system but as Bethesda’s Todd Howard’s now-legendary statement goes, the thing is essentially Teddy Ruxpin. Not in a derogatory fashion, mind you; it’s a toy. I played with it for a while and I put it away. The 360 and PS3 are nothing – nothing like it, except that they both turn on, and have buttons.
I think, looking at the NPD numbers that come out for the systems, the Wii should be shown separately for a more accurate image. With all the layoffs going around and everything, it would be interesting to see if the industry is recession-proof, or if it’s just Nintendo and their tiny, gleaming money printers.
One of my early favorites on the Xbox360 has finally received the sequel it deserves: Dead Rising 2!
I caught the news over on MTV’s Multiplayer blog. Kotaku first broke the news last year, and it was particularly notable for me because of a nerdy sidenote: In the president’s video, right under his copy of Dead Rising, you can clearly see a stack of Vagabond manga. I don’t know if the game’s going to be good but I sure as hell trust the guy. You might say I kind of likeVagabond.
Image courtesy MTV Multiplayer.
The screenshots depicted on MTV’s post raise an eyebrow. So the game’s going to take place in a casino, okay. There’s a lot of stuff at a casino, I guess. I hope I get to throw cards at zombies. The visuals are clearly better as well, though those could easily be bullshots, since none of them are from gameplay. I can hope, though, right?
Where’s Frank? Who’s the blonde guy? I don’t think he’s covered wars, you know. Or taken erotic zombie photos, for that matter! He might be Frank, who knows? Either way, I’m definitely looking forward to this.
The second entry in the Fable series was impressive, but ended up well, not leaving really any taste in my mouth. Everything's there: A unique fiction that takes place in a lovingly crafted world, a variety of optional and required activities, and an entertaining combat system.
Yet while I was playing the game I felt little-to-no need to explore like i did in Fallout, and had very little interest in doing additional sidequests. I felt very little need to play the economy, doing little other than dabbling. I did have lots of sex with a variety of women. At the same time!
When G4's X-Play named it Game of the Year, I was genuinely surprised, but I'll admit it - I think I'm in the minority here. Fable itself wasn't disappointing; I was only disappointed that I didn't like it quite as much as everyone else.
Metal Gear Solid 4 (Played on PS3)
I think this is it: My Game of the Year. I'm always hesitant to choose one, but there was just so much here. As a Metal Gear fanboy going back to at LEAST the first Metal Gear Solid on PSone if not even further back, it was a lot of fun to watch the game truly evolve for the first time since MGS1 not only in the gameplay but in the story.
On the gameplay side, Kojima productions managed to modernize the controls and interface without losing the essence of Metal Gear. The controls didn't clunky anymore. It's hard to know what to write here because for me, everything just worked so well.
The story was a veritable wet dream for Metal Gear Solid fans. It tied up all the loose ends from the first three games, which is a feat to behold. It's almost like Kojima planned it out, or something! It really feels like the proper end for a long running series. The boss battle at the end was a perfect way to remind the player of all the history without whacking them over the head. For once, Kojima managed to make a point without a 45 minute cutscene!
You Might Have Missed...
This is going to be a nice, quick list of things you might have missed this year in all the blockbuster releases.
On the Wii, there was Boom Blox and de Blob. Both of these games brought something rarely found on the Wii: engaging and entertaining gameplay! Boom Blox is essentially another party game, but the puzzle mode is more than enough single player for anyone. What I liked about it the most was that it wouldn't work on any other system. You NEED a Wii remote to play the game. Zelda, Mario, Mario Kart, et al - those games would work fine with a standard controller. de Blob isn't quite as easy to define. It's definitely single player focused, and it was absolutely made for the Wii. The graphics don't stand out quite as much as I'd like, but they easily surpass 90% of the Wii's content. The controls aren't quite up to par with some of the better games (er, Boom Blox), but they still work. The game is notable purely for being something other than shovelware, honestly, but to be able to say it's actually worth the disc it was pressed on? Even better!
Another game that could fall under the Wii category, but doesn't have to, is World of Goo. This was a nice independent release that took a great art and music style and combined it with my intense love of making tall things. You use the little goo balls to make a structure that can support itself, to allow as many gooballs as possible escape. Having purchased this for the Wii, I would suggest instead purchasing it for the PC - the controls are going to work a lot better with a mouse than with the Wii remote. Make sure that you actually do buy it, though: the 90% piracy rate is ridiculous, especially with the game hitting the virtual shelves for the low-low price of $9.99. Seriously.
On the Xbox Live side, Castle Crashers was a good bit of fun. I'm sad to say I didn't play much of it multiplayer. I played through it long before the multiplayer was working. The one time I DID try to play it multi, my power went out. That just screamed "Maybe you shouldn't play this with your friends." But you should! It's cool as hell.
If you look to the left at my "Now Playing" queue, you'll see Yakuza 2 in there. I haven't finished it - the fall blockbusters, once again, got in the way. But as one of the last games on the PS2 this and its predecessor Yakuza are two of the most interesting games on the system. They're unique RPGs that don't resort to magic, turn-based combat, and belt-and-zipper fashion. At $20, the second game is priced to own, and the optional first-game-flashback makes buying the first one unnecessary if you're not interested. I know you have a PS2, why don't you own this game?! It's bad ass.
Listening to one of IGN’s podcasts (Game Scoop or Three Red Lights), and an interesting question was posed. In the move from Old-Style RE to the new mechanics, was something lost?
If I had to go Sophie’s Choice and pick one or the other, I’d say that RE4 is the best game of the series. Even saying that though, the old RE games had their specific charm.
RE4 is just the best-designed game. There’s no doubt there. Of all the games in the series, there are the fewest “YOUSTUPIDGAME” points and the most “OHHOLYSHIT” points. It’s a damn good game. It’s just so very little like the games that came before it.
The best example of the old style of Resident Evil is the REmake on the GameCube. Not only was that one of the ‘Cube’s best looking games – easy – it was the pinnacle of the Resident Evil series.
The spectacular lighting and textures raised a somewhat tired series from the grave and sent it running at you like one of those freaky-ass red zombies. It also remixed just enough stuff to keep it fresh and interesting while retaining the feel of the original.
The main thing is the camera angles. The best games of the old school of survival horror really knew how to jerk a player around with weird camera angles. The angles would convince you someone was following you or watching you, or just make you straight-up uncomfortable. The limited field-of-view allowed for better use of audio and more frequent surprise elements. At the same time, it was hard to believe that an elite STARS officer couldn’t see the zombie 2 feet in front of her in the hallway. The limited inventory forced you to make some choices about what to carry with you as well.
Will we ever see a return to that? I doubt it. The new RE games sell far better and receive better scores than the old ones really ever have. They’re more userfriendly. The new school of horror games like Siren: Blood Curse give hope for modern survival horror games, but for now, RE5 isn’t survival horror – it’s just survival.
When talking about Slam Dunk it's hard not to turn into a blubbering fanboy. Because that's what I am--a complete, rambling fool for Slam Dunk. I've watched the anime twice. I own most of it on DVD, and untranslated to boot. More than almost anything else about the story, that red-head punk Sakuragi Hanamichi is what keeps me coming back, and this volume of the manga really cemented that for me back when I read it for the first time.
Burnout Paradise is sort of "the little game that could." By no means little, it none the less has an uphill struggle to win any Game of the Year awards, seeing as it came out in January 2008. What Criterion has done, though, is keep the game constantly relevant. Just as we're ready to forget about it, they drop a new pack of content that doesn't just add to the game, it changes it in a drastic, obvious way. Adding motorcycles and night-time racing for free (versus, say, a few dollars for some armor for your horse in Oblivion) was apparently not enough.
Even a year after the release, more content is still coming: new fun cars on the way (Ecto-1, The Delorean?!), the ability to restart races without having to drive all the way back...This is how to do DLC. Criterion has shown everyone how to do it, now it's everyone else's turn to step up for a try. As a funny side note, Criterion's parent company EA is guilty of some of the most egregious crimes against DLC with "pay to unlock everything" packs and other thinly veiled attempts at monetizing cheat codes. Guess they really let Criterion run things their own way.
GRID (Played on Xbox360)
Might as well finish the racing section all at once. GRID was a real surprise. With most of the solid racing/driving titles being established franchises, a new one is refreshing and exciting. Everything about the game is tight as hell. The slick presentation, huge variety of races, and rewind mechanic make up for a small number of cars and a somewhat low number of tracks.
The best moment so far can be seen above - a midnight downhill point-to-point race. This is an Initial D fan's wet dream. By the way, I'm kind of an Initial D fan, if you haven't noticed. It's pitch black except for your head lights reflecting off the guard rails. Music is thumping, and the guy right behind you is damn good. This is what I've been looking for in years of playing racing games. GRID, thank you.
Silent Hill: Homecoming (Played on Xbox360)
Speaking of disappointments... I've been a fan of the Silent Hill series since... well maybe not day one, but maybe day two or three. The first game was one of my first PSone purchases and was in the system for more playthroughs than I can count. The second one took the series to a new level of visual, aural, and literary complexity. I can still talk about the game today, almost 9 years later, with as much passion as I did then. Silent Hill 3 brought back the first game's gore at the expense of the story, but the visuals were there so who am I to complain? Silent Hill 4 was a mess, and the announcement of Silent Hill 5 left me cautiously optimistic.
SH:H isn't all bad. It's just not all good, either. The first time in the hands of an American developer didn't go too badly, but it was just missing something. It felt a lot like the Silent Hill movie, in that a lot of the visual aspects were there in full force while the story just wasn't quite ready to hold them up.
The refined combat system was a welcome change from previous games, but in the end unnecessary. I felt that the new combat system forced me to fight many more monsters than I would've liked. Silent Hill has always been about running away when you can.
I haven't finished the game yet, sadly. I intend to, but when you've got stuff like Prince of Persia on the pile...
Prince of Persia (Played on Xbox360)
This is an easy contender for game of the year for me. Things that other players didn't like: the no-death gameplay, the modernized dialogue, and the ending many called unsatisfying - these all made the game what it was for me. Prince of Persia aimed more for art than for accomplishment and was a wild success, in my eyes. There isn't much to say that I haven't already said.
Geometry Wars 2 (Played on Xbox360)
Geometry Wars calls to mind the best of the classic arcades, and almost makes you wonder if it and Pac-Man CE couldn't raise arcades from the dead if you put'em each in a quarter cabinet. After its first outing, many were left wondering at the announcement of a second iteration, "What's left?!"
A lot apparently! Five new game modes, all equally playable, to complement the returning "evolved" mode. Stick some co-op and versus gameplay in there AND crank up the already gorgeous graphics and you've got a challenging game that even I come back to.
A post like this is difficult when you play so many games. It's really tempting to just throw whatever you've played last in there and call it good, completely forgetting about great stuff that came out. We'll call this "The Short List."
Dead Space (Played on Xbox360)
Art from the Ben Templesmith comic that tells the game's backstory.
This was an easy one for me. I'll be the last person to call it original, but the first to say it kicked all kinds of necromorph ass. It took some of my favorite movies--Aliens and The Thing--and a solid refinement of Resident Evil 4's gameplay and stuck'em in one very well crafted package. I didn't think the game was that scary, but it was incredibly tense. The fun and creative weapons, the relentlessly oppressive atmosphere, and a pretty interesting (if predictable) SF-Horror story all helped pull me in. Very few games pull me in for a second play, but this one had a brand new save on it barely 10 minutes after the credits rolled.
Grand Theft Auto 4 (Played on Xbox360)
This one's a little harder to talk about. There's a LOT of good to be had here, and I'll give respect to anyone who lists it as their favorite of the year. The animation, the cinematics, the improved mechanics and the environments all were top-notch. What really hurt the game for me was the battle between the narrative and the player. The Niko in the cutscenes was mostly pretty interesting - this sad man, who'd done some really bad things that he wanted to get away from and forget about. He's the kind of character you really want to learn more about. But then the one in the game, he was a fucking jackass. "Hey, let's go kill people for money!" "I just hit an innocent person while driving, take that old lady!" The character was literally at odds with himself and, in the end, with me. I was angry enough that I actually just stopped playing the game. If you look at my 360's blog, you'll see I played the shit out of the game. I put a good 35 hours into it easy. Then something that wasn't making me angry came along, and I forgot about it. I'd like to go back to it, but I doubt I ever will.
Pixeljunk Monsters (Played on PS3 - Download)
Pixeljunk Monsters really took me by surprise. The only game that's scored more time on the PS3 this year is Valkyria Chronicles. This one gets at least a couple hours of play every week. The real draw in it is the co-op play. If I just played single player, I don't know that it would've lasted too long. The co-op, though, is an absolute blast. Coordinating money collection, tower upgrading and of course tower choice and placement keep talk about the game on your lips but let you just sit and chat about other stuff while you do it - a perfect game for hanging out.
Valkyria Chronicles (Played on PS3)
As readers already know, I have a huge nerd-boner for this game. As one of the guys in Area5.tv's latest video said, it brings the strategy to "Strategy Game." Leveling affects all characters in a given class, largely keeping you from playing the same 10 characters over. You'll still come to favor some, but it's for their personality quirks instead of "because I played as them last time." The visuals and the hybrid gameplay both give the game a fresh feeling that not many games have. I might bitch about the piggy with wings that pokes his nose into a few too many cutscenes, but the story and voice-acting are both top-notch, and it's easy to see why an anime is being produced. If it hits the US shores, I hope they bring in the same voice actors.
Little Big Planet (Played on PS3)
I was so excited about this game! I managed to get into the beta and I was ecstatic. More than I ever have been for a beta, probably. Too bad I've barely touched the game. It's not that it's a bad game - I just have zero interest unless there's someone there to play it with me. There's so much I should adore about it, but on my list of games to play it just stays at the bottom. I'm not sure what else to say about it. I have nothing bad to say about the game. There's so much there that should make it infinitely replayable, but I'd probably pick up Prince of Persia again or get owned in MegaMan 9 some more before I even so much as thought about this one.
This is getting long, so I'm calling this part 1. Look for part 2 in the coming days!
Much bitching has occurred about the ending of Fallout 3. Not the ending of the story per se, but the ending of the game itself. Oblivion didn't end, so why should Fallout, people ask.
It's right there in the story.
Oblivion is all about maintaining the status quo. The world is doing just fine, except some horrible evil is trying to bust out and mess up everyone's fun. As the Foretold Hero of Legend, your job is to stop it from busting out, so everyone can continue living as they have. You're an old-timey Ghostbuster, and your proton pack is a medieval weapon.
Everything's already happy, see?!
Fallout 3, on the other hand, takes place in a completely broken world. If you do manage to find a silver lining somewhere, you're probably going to use it to make a weapon.
You could say it's a bit of a...fixer-upper.
As you cruise through the Capital Wasteland, you leave a trail of seriously-affected lives behind you; an entire town literally wiped off the map, one of the few safe buildings around, infested with zombies are just a couple of the things you can do. When you do reach that final conclusion, whether you choose good or evil or whatever, the world is irrevocably altered for better or worse. Further, the changes aren't minor. Your actions have the potential to affect countless lives.
So, after you bust that nasty ghost in Oblivion, you've saved the world and it exists, unchanged, for you to waltz around at your leisure. The only difference, is everyone calls you "the Champion," like you just won a boxing match.
The ending of Fallout 3 might be compared to Star Wars, on the other hand. You've blown up the death star and killed the emperor--or joined him, bwahaha--things might still suck, but they're very, very different. Things all over the place will start changing immediately. This just wouldn't work in a game. Part of the fun of Fallout 3 is feeling like the things you're doing are affecting people. To take that away would cheapen the ending and, honestly, everything that came before it.