Quick Hit Review 1

28 02 2013

I’ve been toying with reviewing my current-gen games for a while, but kept putting it off for no reason in particular.  Then, on Tuesday, I wrote my review for Far Cry 3.  Spoiler: I love it. Then the review disappeared into the vapor. No Bueno.  So I figured now is the time to go to my back collection, and start doing some quick hit reviews of games I played this generation.

First up: Little Big Planet

LBPThis game absolutely surprised me.  I am a “creative professional”, and as such, I am always looking for a good outlet of my creativity.  I also love a good platformer.  This game managed, on it’s own, to be the best platformer since Mario 3, in my opinion.  Some hate on the “floaty” controls, but all those things make it feel more old-school to me.  the fact that you could adjust Mario’s direction in midair is part of what made the game WORK.  A decent single player story, with lots of goofy characters, and bright colorful world brought me right back to the days on my NES, back to what made me fall for videogames in the first place.

Then you add in the level creator, which has now made literally MILLIONS of levels? It is simply amazing.  Is every level great? Of course not. Does every level have at least a bit of heart in it? Yes.  There is a reason I was first in line at the NYC Sony Store for the launch of Little Big Planet 2, where I got to play the game with people trying to set a world record for almost an hour, meet Jeff Rubenstein (AKA Zombie Blognack for the IGN fans out there), and get some nice signed swag. But mostly, it was to thank Media Molecule for the first game I got a platinum trophy for.

Gran Turismo 5

GT5This game is a tricky review, as it is so hot and cold in so many ways.  Are you using a control, or a wheel? Do you have a TV for sound, or a sound system? Do you care more about the realism of the driving, or do you want a smooth experience?  Each of these could effect your feelings for the game to a large degree on their own. Together they can create a huge difference.  I happen to have a decent 6.1 sound system, a racing wheel with force feedback, and I LOVE a sim racer.  To me, Gran Turismo 5 is ALMOST everything I wanted.  The cars sound, and FEEL great.  You can, with a feedback wheel, really feel the moment your tires are about to lose traction because you are pushing to far.  You can feather the throttle perfectly into a corner, and throttle up JUST SO on the way out to get even more grip without oversteer.

Even for me, however, the UI and menus seem straight out of GT 2.  Some things are better, but a racing series that really guides you through most of the series in the game would be a huge improvement.

And from what I hear, if you don’t have a pretty good sound system, the audio can get pretty mediocre.  Not a game changer, but it can be an issue.

All in all, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a sim-racer, but not an arcade racer fan. It’s not… fun… in the same way Mario Kart 64 or Need For Speed Underground was. It’s fun in the way Battletoads was. It kicks your ass, without cheating, and makes you want to keep going back to shave off seconds, because you are making yourself better, and the challenge itself is a BLAST.

inFamous

InfamousThe first inFamous was the second game I platinumed, and with good reason.  I was always in a weird in-between place when it came to superheros.  I LOVED anything I could find on TV- TMNT, X-MEN, Batman: The Animated Series.  But I never had access to the comics for some reason, and therefor I never fully got into the medium.  inFamous gave me a chance to enjoy the true origin story of a superhero in it’s original form. And I could shape the character into a hero or villain as I saw fit! Sure, to really rack up trophies and get super powerful you had to play a “good” and a “bad” playthrough, you couldn’t really walk the grey moral line. But also most of the choices were pretty black and white, so there were rarely things that in my “I’m me, a nice, decent, non-asshat” where I wanted to make the “bad” choice.

This game gave a great story of being accused of being a criminal, only to find, slowly, that you have superpowers, and have to make the choice: do you return the vitriol humankind is giving you because they are scared? Or do you rise above it, and help them to spite themselves.  Either choice is a tough one, and is legitimately made of dozens of smaller choices.  This was the first game I played that gave me that kind of organic choice, and it 100% pulled me in.  It will always have a special place to me as the first game that made me feel like I had control of the universe I was in.

OK, that’s it for now, but there will be more of these quick hit reviews to come, with more custom box-art too.





Walking Dead: The Game

6 01 2013

WalkingDeadWalking Dead is a very difficult thing to describe for the uninitiated.  It is a comic that has been turned into both a game and a TV series.  The game takes place within the same reality as the comic, where the TV show is essentially a reboot- same characters, but different timeline.  It also, on the surface, is a zombie apocalypse game.  In essence, however, it is a human civilization apocalypse game.

My wife asked me last night why I like all the zombie stuff I do: All the Walking Dead iterations, Shaun of the Dead, older Resident Evil games, the game Day Z; while I generally hate scary movies.  I realized, while trying to explain it, that the whole zombie genre does a few things very differently than any other horror movie. There is the superficial layer where zombies are unique because they are dumb, slow monsters with a glaring weakpoint to be exploited- their only strength comes in numbers… and actual strength I suppose.

There are three ways zombie media interests me: primal survival, choices, and people. First, there is the CONSTANT question of if you could outrun the hoard. I’ve been hunting a few times, and was a boy scout, but if I was in the woods, could I make a shelter, hunt for food, and find drinkable water, all while NOT being eaten alive? Secondly, in zombie movies, I am constantly thinking about what I would do in a person’s situation- hiding in the house could mean starvation, running to loot a grocery store could mean getting attacked by hoards, and running to the country could mean being killed by bandits. Now, I am not one of those people who has a Zombie survival plan, FYI, I am well aware that zombies are fake. I just cannot help but think “Oh, no man, its only two!  Throw a brick to distract the far one, kill the first one then sneak up and kill the second. Using a gun right now is just DUMB!”

Lastly, the place where a really good piece of zombie fiction gets me is when the zombies are only a backdrop.  The real threat in great zombie fiction is people.  The more I thought about it, I realized that Zombie fiction is the new forefront of sci-fi.   Sci-fi has a long tradition of pushing boundaries  addressing social issues, and confronting political wrongs before the rest of culture can in a realistic setting.  In most sci-fi this was done by taking you to a future where either a social injustice was corrected (Star Trek), or where it was made far worse via slippery-slope (1984).  Great zombie works have the same ability, because it allows humanity to be stripped to its bear bones.  What happens when someone watches their loved-ones turn against them? How hardened and unemotional do people get? In a time when the only hope is to band together, how tough is it to trust ANYONE?

What makes Walking Dead the comic great is that it hits all three aspects extremely well. Zombies are a threat, as is nature, but so are people, and choices have consequences. It works very well.  Walking Dead the game does the same things, except you are the one making the choices, and with limited time. You have to make choices that could cost a life, or just effect a friendship. However, that relationship may later mean someone lives or dies.  Walking Dead is a great zombie game, but it is more.

Without spoiling to many plot points, you play as Lee, a history professor from Macon, Georgia.  You start the game in the back of a police car, after being arrested for murdering the man your wife was cheating on you with. Suddenly, the world is changed. Soon, you stumble into a house and find eight year-old Clementine home alone. Her parents are in Savannah, and you take her in to protect her.  This is where the game really turns.  You are no longer living for yourself alone, you are trying to protect this innocent girl.  And you will get attached to her- this game is part zombie-game, part parent-simulator. Do you try to lie and comfort her, or do you tell her the scary truth? Do you yell at her for doing something risky, or stay calm and ask her not to do it more?  All of these choices will have consequences, and combined with the fact that most have to be made in the span of 10 or so seconds, they quickly become very real.

Walking Dead is a great game. It has fun, engaging gameplay.  There are some bugs occasionally, but most I had were minor.  The thing that makes Walking Dead stand apart is it isn’t just a great game.

Walking Dead is one of a very few games that I would recommend to anyone who says games cannot be art.  I challenge you to play this game, and not be moved, to not be emotionally connected, to not feel.  It transcends its media and becomes more than a game, it becomes an experience.

And it is, in my opinion, the second best game of 2012.

Updated: Added Game Graphic