Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Serious Sam HD

Developer: CroTeam
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Jan. 13, 2010
System: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: If you can find a game that's more like DOOM without actually being DOOM, you buy it.

0:00 I've never actually played the original version of this FPS classic, but I've heard it compared to the original DOOM, which is one of my favorites of the genre. Looking forward to seeing what the fuss is about.

0:01 Bongo music behind a slow panning shot of an ornate Egyptian temple, with a praying cat/monkey-god statue out front. The music goes out as I come to a menu screen.

0:02 How to play: "Kill bad guys!" Seems simple enough. There's some stuff about weapons and strafing and health packs too, but really, "kill all enemies" is remarkably concise.

0:03 The options screen has a setting for blood and gore that includes a "hippie" option. OK, I have to find out what that means. I can customize the look of the crosshair too, a nice, if a tad ridiculous, touch.

0:04 Let's start a single-player game. My scenario options are "Egypt" and "Demo." Uh, Egypt ... I guess. The first level is oddly named "Hatshepsut." I can choose from a ridiculous number of difficulties: Tourist, Easy, Normal, Hard, Serious or Mental (which is locked). As the difficulties go up, so does the score multiplier. Nice to have some incentive to challenge yourself. I choose Normal, which is described as "for experienced FPS players."

0:05 A Green computer terminal tells me "WELCOME TO NETRICSA -- NEuroTRonically Implanted Combat Situation Analyzer." Duh! It will guide me and ID strange artifacts and enemies and such. OK then.

0:06 "At the dawn of the 21st century mankind makes a startling discovery." An ancient, technologically advanced civilization hidden below ruins of other ancient civilizations. Their tech lets us get to the far reaches of the universe. But it's "too perfect to last." In 2104, monsters from another dimension attack, and nothing can stop them. We're beaten back to our own solar system. Sam "Serious" Stone is a legendary fighter and a symbol of resistance. Now, Earth is finally under direct attack, and humanity faces annihilation." Humanity has found a time-lock that can send a single person back in time. "The choice is obvious." That's ... a long way to go for time-travel justification.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spike TV Video Game Awards 2009

Developer: Geoff Keighley
Publisher: Spike TV
Release Date: Dec. 12, 2009
System: TV
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: More like Video Game Awards POO!
0:00 I've watched the Spike TV VGAs a few times in the past and each time come away less than impressed. I was out at a holiday party this Saturday evening, but I did DVR the live festivities out of morbid curiosity, if nothing else. I managed to avoid reading about the winners -- or even the nominees -- up to this point, but I did hear about the big Green Day: Rock Band announcement already, so that's one less surprise I have in store for myself over the next hour.

0:01 The Comcast info screen for my recording says, "Coverage of the seventh annual awards ceremony honoring achievements in the video-game industry is featured." Coverage? Like it's a news program or something. Also, hooray for passive voice.

0:02 It's seems my DVR caught the end of some cheesy cop show. One guy is crying to another guy about the girl that got away or got murdered or some such. What is this, Lifetime? Where's the violence?

0:03 After a warning about "M-rated game footage" and "viewer discretion," we fade in to an elaborately lit stage with a giant wrapped box in the center. A tag on it says "Don't open until 12/12." "Good evening, gamers. Welcome to the biggest night in gaming," says the voice of Mark Hamill's Joker, straight out of Arkham Asylum. "I miss you all so much. But 'tis the season to be naughty, and I'm ready to give you all presents." Huh? "Are you ready for a big surprise?" The box pops open and two black-clad henchmen pop out, walking through the audience and spraying "gas" on the crowd. One woman coughs violently. Two other guys look extremely bored. "Here's a sequel you didn't see coming," says the Joker. "Too bad you won't be able to play it." Wait, it's a sequel to Arkham Asylum. I think EVERYONE saw that coming, actually.

0:06 Well, the most I can gather from that trailer is that the sequel is going to feature the Joker again, that part of it might take place in the streets, and that there might be bumper cars involved. Seriously, there was exactly zero gameplay footage or even hints at what changes might be coming to the next game.

0:07 "Welcome to the biggest night of the year for gamers around the globe," says a computer-ish female voice. I'm not sure if I'd go THAT far ... but whatever. "Shown in over 180 countries, it's the Spike TV Video Game Awards." 180 countries? I didn't even know there WERE 180 countries. I'd love to see that list. "With killer world premieres and official announcements of the most anticipated games of the future." And awards, right? You are gonna give out awards at some point? It's not just a big advertisement for upcoming games, right?



Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Super Monkey Ball 2

Developer: Other Ocean
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2009
System: iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Super Monkey Tilt 'N' Tumble

0:00 My first experience with iPhone gaming was playing the first Super Monkey Ball on a friend's brand-new phone just after it launched. I found the game to be an impossible-to-control mess, which is a shame, because I loved the console Super Monkey Ball games. Here's hoping this one is an improvement.

0:01 A few logos, then right to the title screen, with a picture of the four core Monkeys and some bouncy, catchy music. Baby has on a Geordi La Forge visor for some reason.

0:02 Mini-games? There are mini-games? Nice! I'll save them for dessert, though. For now, it's on to the main game. There's an option for a tutorial, but I think I know how this works by now and just dive in.

0:03 I pick Gongon, because he's the biggest and manliest of the available monkeys by far. I can spin a globe around to choose what world I want, but everything except for Jumble Jungle is an inky black. Let's do this!

0:04 "Welcome to Super Monkey Ball 2. Let's cover a few basic tips before getting into the game." Wait ... I thought I skipped the tutorial. Oh well. Tilt the iPod to move ... a tilt meter in the corner shows whether you're centered or not. I roll forward down an arrow-straight path and reach the white light as instructed. I like how the game treats holding the iPod downward at a natural, 45-degree viewing angle as "centered." Too many other games force you to hold it level and look straight down.

0:05 A second tutorial level introduces turning, with nice high walls to protect me from falling to my doom. Turns are a little shallower than I expect, but when I slow down they get sharper. So far the controls feel entirely natural and intuitive. I think they may have actually gotten it right this time.



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't B Nervous Talking 2 Girls

Developer: Silver Dollar Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2009
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Don't be nervous watching videos of a girl who acts completely irrationally.

0:00 I haven't been nervous talking to girls at least since I met the woman who would become my wife close to 10 years ago. That said, when I heard that there was an indie game with this title on Xbox Live, I knew I had to try it out. Plus it only costs 80 Microsoft Points. That's a freaking dollar. For that price, I'm relatively sure it'll be worth it.

0:01 Two badly hand-drawn women, a blonde and a brunette, hold placards with the title of the game. A blonde girl in a tight green sweater appears on a small video in the corner. "Welcome to Don't Be Nervous Talking to Girls. You'll be presented with multiple challenges. The goal of each challenge will be to get my number and make a new friend." Yeah ... I don't think "making a new friend" is really what "getting her number" is usually about, but whatever.

0:02 On to "How to play: Your goal is to get Jessica's phone number at 8 locations." Uh ... isn't getting it once enough? Maybe she keeps changing her number? Shouldn't that be a sign that we're not meant to be together? Am I actually a stalker?

0:04 Let's start with Stage 1: The Library. A blonde in a yellow top with a thin waist holds an iPhone and looks at me expectantly on the intro screen. Then another video of the green-sweatered girl. I can tell we're in a library because there's a stack of books in the back, even though she's just standing there. "Hey, how's it going," she says in a friendly, non-threatening manner. The potential answers are "Good." or "Never better. What book are you reading?" What do I do? Which should I pick? WHY AM I SO NERVOUS TALKING TO GIRLS?!

0:05 I ask about the book. "Oh, I was just doing some math homework. But it's not going too well." This despite the fact that she has no visible book or math papers in front of her. But whatever... I go the cocky route and tell her "I'm a whiz at math."

0:06 "Well, math whiz, what's the answer to this: 4 + 7 - 1 x 7." Did I accidentally download Don't B Nervous Doing Basic Math Problems? Also, the girl in this video looks college age at least. Why is she doing second-grade arithmetic? I choose the right answer from four multiple-choice options (Multiple-choice? Really? The problem isn't easy enough?) "Awesome, thanks," she says. I wonder if she'd know if I gave the wrong answer. And if so ... how?



Demon's Souls

Developer: From Software
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: Oct. 7, 2009
System: PS3
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: I spent nearly half of the hour dead.

0:00 I was pretty unimpressed with a live Internet video demo of this game a few months ago -- it just looked like any other dungeon hack-and-slasher. But then the game came out and all sorts of critics started praising it for its design and punishing-but-fair difficulty, so I figured I had to see what all the fuss was about.

0:01 "On the first day man was granted a soul, and with it, clarity. On the second day upon Earth was planted an irrevocable poison, a soul-devouring Demon." Wow, so we only got one uninterrupted day with a soul? LAME!

0:02 A flying beast casts a huge shadow over land. A choir chants over timpani and trumpets as a lone armored hero takes out a bunch of shambling, possibly undead soldiers in slow-mo. He gets knocked back and rises to face a skeleton holding a huge scimitar. Organ music as a glowing ghost shoots an arrow at the skeleton. A giant dragon-ish beast rises up in the middle distance and roars. Fade to white as the choir fades out. Yeah ... that intro did nothing to convince me this isn't the same hack-and-slash crap I've played a million times.

0:05 The game can't connect to the Demon's Souls server, possibly because it's a trade demo and not a retail copy. Looks like I'm going it alone...

0:07 Time to "Create Profile." I name my character "?!," because I can. I can be a Soldier, Knight, Hunter, Priest, Magician, Wanderer, Barbarian, Thief, Temple Knight or Royalty. That's a lot of choices! I think I'll go with Royalty, just because it's so different. And regal!



The Saboteur

Developer: Pandemic Studios
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Grand Theft WWII-era Paris

0:00 I've been interested in this game since I first heard about it back in 1995. Seriously, I feel like I've been waiting for this stylish period piece forever, and now it's finally here just in time for the studio that worked so hard on it to shut down. This is all coloring my perceptions going in.

0:01 A red fleur-de-lis shimmers in the light a bit, then the game tells me I need "1021 MB more free space on the hard drive." It's always something with these PS3 releases...

0:02 The Bourne Conspiracy is taking up 4.68 GB on my hard drive? Good lord, why?

0:03 "The Saboteur needs to perform an initial setup process. This will take about 7 minutes." Well I appreciate their warning me, at least. Let's see how accurate their estimate is...

0:10 The install is done ... almost exactly seven minutes after it started. That's pretty impressive.

0:11 Logos, then a painted red line morphs into a woman's tight-pantsed backside. The line shifts goes down to the title. Fade to a black-and-white Parisian skyline, focused on the Eiffel Tower. Faint sirens in the background. Cut to an old car rumbling down a cobblestone street. There are red lights on some signs, but everything else has a noir-ish grayscale palette. I love the sensuous old French accordion music in the background.



Monday, December 7, 2009

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: I'm going off the rails on this (decidedly un-) Crazy Train.

0:00 I actually came away from my 15-minute demo of this game at E3 incredibly bored with the entire concept. Am I finally outgrowing the concept of Zelda games? Man, I hope not...

0:01 Across both screens, a blocky 3-D locomotive blasts out of a dark tunnel into the bright light of a green field. Leaning out the window is a cartoony, Wind Waker-ish Link in a black engineer's outfit, with a huge grin on his face . A ghostly version of Zelda (!) jumps off the roof and flies alongside the train. Gentle flute music in the background as the camera rotates around, showing a large tower in the distance. Birds fly along the train tracks, keeping pace with the locomotive. As the title appears we continue to chug towards the tower. A train whistle goes off as I tap the screen to start.

0:02 The familiar file-select music brings me back to the '80s almost immediately. The game asks me to twice confirm that I'm right-handed. In case I mis-clicked the first time I guess?

0:03 Adventure, Battle and Tag modes are available. The others sound interesting, but let's dive into Adventure, why not? "This is a tale from long ago. It's a tale of the first settlers of this land." It was peaceful, but not for long. "The evil Demon King rose to power." And who exactly voted for him? Anyway, the "spirits of good" faced him, leading to a long war, with lots of bloodshed. The good spirits subdued him but couldn't destroy him. With the last of their strength, they shackled him. "The shackles cover the land to this day." Hmmm ... train tracks look like shackles. Anyway, without demons and spirits, "the land was entrusted to us," which seems like a good deal to me.

0:05 Zoom out from the illustrative tapestry on the bottom screen to show a bald man speaking from behind it. "Well? Do I know how to tell a story or what? ... It's a blasted masterpiece... a blasterpiece." I'm going to have to weave that word into casual conversation.

0:06 Pan to Link, who fell asleep on the floor during the story. They're roommates, though the bald guy seems a lot older than Link. Amazingly, he takes the hint and apologizes for boring me.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dragon Age: Origins

Developer: Bioware Edmonton
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The Early Education of a Magical Bear

0:00 I've been putting off loading up my copy of this one because I'm not generally a big fan of sword-and-sorcery RPGs, even if they're by the vaunted BioWare. Plus I was underwhelmed by what I felt was a boring eyes-on demo of this one at E3.

0:01 Overwrought fantasy music on the preview screen, along with a hooded lady shown in a crimson dragon emblem. Meh.

0:02 The bad news: The game requires new firmware to be played. The good news: The firmware seems to be on the disc, and doesn't require a lengthy download. The data is copied to the hard drive in a matter of seconds, but the actual install process crawls along slower than expected. I'll letcha know when it's done.

0:06 That was relatively painless. I spent the four-minute install playing some SkiFree on my laptop. Now THERE'S a fun game.

0:07 "There is not enough available space in the HDD. To create data, at least 901 MB more space is required." Of course it is...

0:08 So long, Haze game data. Your 3.866 gigs will be put to much better use in the future.