Top 10 Games that I bought in 2011 but didn’t play

December 31st, 2011

10) The War of the Worlds

9) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

8) Bastion

7) Virtual-On OT

6) Bayonetta

5) Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection

4) El Shaddai

3) Beyond Good & Evil HD

2) Amnesia: The Dark Descent

1) Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Finished: Mirror’s Edge

May 15th, 2009

I really really wanted to love Mirror’s Edge.

I was sold by the original announcement — the pounding footprint EA logo, Lisa Miskovsky’s beautiful Still Alive, the bright colors and parkour-inspired gameplay… Here it was, EA’s big moment of redemption, part of their let’s make something new campaign, an opportunity to show that they could add to the art of video games, that, alongside Dead Space, they weren’t just sitting creatively idle, churning out sequel after sequel.

Unfortunately, the game is a mess.

Mirror's Edge

There’s a core of greatness buried in Mirror’s Edge, and for that alone it’s worth exploring, but the brief moments of awe are surrounded by tedium and frustration. The setting is fantastic — an urban romp through a colorful dystopian landscape — but the joy of exploration falls apart in the level design itself. I’ll accept the forced trial and error gameplay, but when combined with an imperfect contextual control scheme and widely scattered save points, the results were brutal. Many times I’d find myself elated to have crossed some difficult hurdle, only to screw up down the road and be thrown back to well before the tough bits, destroying the pleasure of progress and ratchetting up the aggravation meter. While some of the level layouts simply felt half-baked, thoughtful checkpoint placement might have lessened some of the duress. Yeah, the price would be a reduction in the overall challenge (and already short game length), but for a title that shines brightest when the player is in the flow, leaping over obstacles and along rooftops, it would’ve been a welcome tradeoff.

As I played through the game, I was hoping that the story, penned by Rhianna Pratchett, would be gripping enough to lure me through points of struggle, but the plot was ultimately another mundane enclosure for gameplay requirements, lacking the characterization, unpredictability, and oomph that a well-crafted tale displays.

Particularly mood-breaking were the cutscenes. With such a lush and beautiful in-game environment, why on earth did DICE resort to using a series of Flash-based segments? I’m guessing a lack of cinematic tools or a time crunch led to the decision, but man, was it a bad one.

Mirror's Edge cutscene

Anyway, after all this bitching, would it be wrong of me to say that I’m looking forward to the sequel?

Plus/Minus:
+ Overall, a beautiful sense of style & art direction.
+ Novel, sometimes elegant control scheme.
+ Ooh, another great soundtrack.

Lousy save point distribution leads to seriously frustrating repeats.
The cut scenes… why?
Argh, I haven’t played a more frustrating game in years.
Solidly mediocre story. I was expecting more.

Final grade: C-

Finished: Planescape: Torment

March 4th, 2009

With the sudden and dramatic red-ringing of my Xbox 360, and the couple weeks wait for a refurbished return, I took the opportunity to spend some time on the neglected portion of my play list, the PC games category. First up, the Black Isle AD&D classic with one of the worst cover designs in history, Planescape: Torment.

Actually finding the game was more difficult than it should have been. With services like Steam and GOG out there, why hasn’t this title been packaged in a tidy downloadable format? It may have something to do with the AD&D license or ownership, but Planescape: Torment is playable on GameTap (unfortunately in an unmoddable form), so someone has crossed that hurdle. Anyway, I came across a battered disc in the neglected software box in the garage, scrounged up disc two online, and was good to go.

The fan community surrounding Planescape: Torment is active, and in the decade since the game’s release, several patches and mods have been independently developed. Beyond the whole fixing bugs and typos thing, there’s a patch that completes and implements unfinished content, and another that enables higher resolutions and widescreen play. The overall improvement after installing the lot of ’em is striking, and really makes for a better gaming experience.

Planescape: Torment at 640×480:
Planscape 648x480

With the widescreen patch:
Planescape: Torment with resolution patch

Hell of a difference.

Now, even post-patching, Planescape still has elements that feel barren and unfinished, particularly those dealing with AD&D particulars. Aside from tattoos (which are treated like any other removable piece of gear, but usable by only a handful of characters) and jewelry, there is a distinct lack of wearable items, and by the game’s end, after days of play time, I still had characters in the party with empty equipment slots. The class differences felt shallow, possibly as a result of poor itemization, and the Thief class as a playable option probably should’ve been cut entirely.

More so than most other games, even within the genre, Planescape is a reader. Alongside the voluminous story-forwarding dialog and text elements, there’s a full journal of content that updates as the game progresses, and a myriad of dialog trees to be followed with each of your (up to five concurrent) party members. Unlike most other games, however, the writing is all solid stuff, and I was genuinely interested in the story progression, background, and relationships as I played.

The basic story treads a path that many others have worn beyond comfortable levels — powerful amnesiac who doesn’t know who or where he is (okay sure, it allows the player to learn as the character does), a wisecracking sidekick, and a mysterious big bad pulling the strings and generally making life difficult. The brilliant part of Planescape: Torment is how this was handled. Beyond the cliches, characters were well-developed, with unique qualities and individual motives and passions. The amnesiac story played out artfully with a satisfying culmination, and the fragments of memories and experiences peppered throughout the game gave it much of its color. And yes, as someone unfamiliar with the lore of AD&D’s Planescape, being given the opportunity to learn as the protagonist did was indeed helpful.

In fact, it’s the story that hoists Planescape: Torment above its CRPG siblings, causing one (at least after installing the community patches) to excuse any bugs or issues as minor quibbles. It really is a fun game to play, one of the best western rpgs to date, and well worth the effort to track down and get ahold of. Give it a run through if you haven’t, and let me know what you think.

Plus/Minus:
+ Expansive dialog, deep characters, excellent story.
+ Good ol’ Infinity Engine gameplay.
+ Solid soundtrack by Mark Morgan.
+ The Planescape setting was a refreshing take on traditional AD&D fantasy stomping grounds.
+ Awesome patching support from the community. Thanks, guys!

Poor itemization, especially wearable equipment.
Buggy in stock form.
Still not a fan of the box art.

Final grade: A

Finished: God of Wars

January 3rd, 2009

Like many of the best of the PS2 era, God of War I & II are games that I’m embarrassed not to have played until now.

Upon completion, my first response was to be dismissive, to disparage the titles. I wanted to call them simply a violent Zelda with tits, the video game versions of a 1980s R-rated action flick, gratuitous strip club scene included. These games not only go over the edge of gore and T&A, they revel in it.

Then I realized, that’s the beauty of the series. God of War (here I’m referring to the series as a whole) takes the greatness and exaggeration of the mythology on which it’s based and goes nuts. Everything is big: the battles, the bosses, the characters, the swords, and the breasts. Nothing is subtle here, even the majority of Krato’s speaking parts are yelled out, and when not hampered down by camera issues and suspension-breaking platformer challenges, it all works.

When I play a game, the most evil you’ll see me ever take a character is maybe somewhere just shy of ne’er-do-well. I’ve admittedly got some sort of over-empathy thing going on, as just playing the role of an evil person makes me feel bad, and I find it unenjoyable. Now while Kratos isn’t evil, per say, he does have some serious issues, and there were a few points here and there that were just not fun to play (the man in the cage, for example).

Hmm, the whole game morality issue is a discussion in itself, so for now I’m just putting it out there that I found some of the situations off-putting.

The sequel, expanding on the bigger and badder of the series, takes the Kratos is a dick thing even further, although I’ll admit that battling mythological heroes was a blast. The Perseus fight, with its Harry Hamlin plucked straight out of Titans, was one of the highlights of the game.

god_of_war_ii

Plus/Minus, God of War:
+ Holy crap this feels epic.
+ He’s a dick, but Kratos does seem legitimately badass.
+ Character designs and level architecture are a lot of fun.
+ Gives the player a bit more life each time a checkpoint is reattempted. Nice.

Camera is maddening, flip-flopping at the worst times and creating difficult angles of control.
Platformer puzzles without the platformer control. Ugh.
Overly complex controls, could’ve done more with less.
Quicktime events: not a fan.

Final grade: B-

Plus/Minus, God of War II:
+ The good points from above. More epic!
+ Colossus battle: hell of a way to start the game!
+ Controls felt much better in the platforming bits.
+ Impressive ending cinematic has me excited for the sequel.

Fodder battles became tedious.
Quicktime events: still not a fan.

Final grade: B

Dear residents of Tenpenny Tower,

November 13th, 2008

I guess sorry doesn’t really cut it right about now.

[minor spoilers follow, and I don’t wanna get yelled at]
Full story, after the jump »