Monday, February 26, 2007

2K7 Game-a-Week Week #8: Kingdom Hearts

Going to be a short post today. Just wanted to say I'm finally into Kingdom Hearts a little farther than I was the first time I played it. My goal for this game is to get to at least one area that is from a Disney movie. After all, that was supposed to be the big draw of this game - Final Fantasy characters interacting with the Little Mermaid, Hercules, etc. So far I've only been on the island and in the town (which is where I stopped the last time). Frankly, I don't think they should have made players wait so long before getting to the Disney stuff. I know there are FF characters in this I should recognize, but I'm just not FF-literate yet. Maybe FFX should be on my list for this year. Anyway, more next week, I hope. (Oh, and I'm still plugging away at Hotel Dusk.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

2K7 Game-a-Week Week #7: Ooops...

Well, with time schedules being what they are, this was bound to happen. I wasn't able to play any of my selected game for last week. However, I am going to try again this week to get at least to the point I stopped playing Kingdom Hearts before. I'd really like to get into some of the better parts of this this game (ie, battles in various Disney cartoons). Looks like this franchise is going to continue for some time and I already own the first 3 titles. Time to see if they are worth it. I did get some more time in on Hotel Dusk and even got to a "Game Over" screen for picking a wrong question to ask. The only penalty was going back to before I asked the question.

I'm starting to work up a "hunting list" of games to get for the last gen consoles while I battle with myself about getting a current gen console, namely the 360. Connecting it up to the TV while the DVD is also connected is the biggest hurdle now - the TV only has one set of component inputs. I'm going to look into S-video for the DVD player to see if that will solve the problem.

In Vana'diel, we are all up to level 66 with our big boys - a paltry 9 levels below the cap. It's interesting to see the effect of time on an MMO like FFXI. At any given time, I'd say 1/3 of the players in the game are 75th level, the highest in the game. Almost nothing is happening for lowbies anymore. Does Square just start making it so 75 is the new low level by making harder expansions and monsters? Will they up the level cap, and if they do, will it be like in WoW where the cap was hit by most users in less than a month?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Stocking up for the winter?

I was over at a local Gameworld today, buying an unusual number of games (nine) and I couldn't help but think that the 6 Xbox games I had there represented one of the last times I may buy games for that console. New game releases for it have been reduced to a drying trickle and I've gotten almost all of the older titles I wanted to get. Coupled with BC issues for the 360 and the relative difficulty I have getting to it for gaming means that very soon, I will have all the Xbox games I want to play.

I've been down this road before. The road hasn't been as graphically attractive before, but the end of the SNES, N64 and Dreamcast all pretty much went the same way. When those beloved consoles were unceremoniously chucked out by the industry in favor of new ones, I dug my heels firmly into the past and railed about how much better the old systems were to the new ones. The SNES controller was vastly superior to the N64's "weird, alien" design. The N64's cartridge system was better than any disc based system because it was more durable and faster. The Dreamcast was...ok, so maybe I didn't stand up for that one as much.

And now that 2 of my 3 major console investments (in time and money) are going to the bargain bins, I'm doing the whole hoarding-while-there-are-still-a-few-nuts-on-the-tree thing again. The question is: am I stocking my pantry with wholesome foods for a long hibernation, or am I resisting change and not looking for better digs? Do the platforms of "yesterday" have enough to offer me, to keep me playing, while everyone else thunders along with bloated platforms that are as much about games as they are about getting their foot in your living room and their fingers in your wallet?

What do I really feel about the new systems? Well, the PS3 is overly expensive and has nothing that says "must play". The Wii looks as ridiculous as the day they announced what the controller looked like ("It's a TV remote!"). The 360's games are still expensive, I don't have a HDTV, and I have no real interest in playing on XBL, even if I had the time. True, I will need it when Burnout 5 comes out if it doesn't suck, but there isn't even a date for that. Plus I worry about how reliable the system is, how noisy it is and just where I would put that power brick.

I've said it before that "my next gen console is the DS". That system combined with whatever still comes out on the PS2 may well be my best bet, at least for now. The force is strong with the 360 and I doubt I can hold out much longer, but for now my warren is stacked to the earthen ceiling with much gaming goodness, even if it hails from an age soon to be past.

Monday, February 12, 2007

2K7 Game-a-Week Week #6: Time Splitters: Future Perfect

(As I'm not feeling quite "perfect" myself today, this will be a shorter than usual entry.)

I've always been a fan of the Time Splitters games all the way back to the first one which was also the first FPS I played on the PS2. I have to admit that it wasn't without problems. Trying to get used to a dual stick FPS was tough. Every time someone started shooting me, I spun around out of control or was staring into a corner while getting shot in the back. But I stuck with it and managed to get some fun out of it before selling it (the original TS) on eBay. Wasn't a whole lot in it for me to go back to once I got through a few missions.

TS2, however, has always been a major favorite of mine. The combination of smooth, visceral shooting with time travel and wacky scenarios made for a perfect game. My brother and I actually got through the story mode (on easy) in co-op mode. While I owned and played it on the Cube, I got a copy for the Xbox just because I thought it was that good.

I had heard the latest installment, TS:FP, was not quite as good as #2 but I had to give it a try anyway. What I found is that for the most part "they" were right. The game feels a bit too creaky (best word I can think of to describe it). While the story mode, which is driven by very amusing cutscenes, is more entertaining, the combat seems less smooth and harder to manage. I know about the endless criticisms that FPS's should only be played with mouse-and-keyboard, but I really don't remember having this much trouble with TS2. On easy mode (which is what I played TS2 on - never even could get through episode 1 on Normal!), I was dying or getting badly shot up fairly regularly after about the 3rd or 4th mission. Still, I was making progress and the auto-partner system really helps. What I don't know is how it works with co-op. Your "partner" in each level sort of directs you where to go next either through comments and/or heading to the next area. When John comes out next time, we will have to give it a try on the Xbox version I got (yeah, a $9.99 cheapy from Fry's). I also had problems with the Cube controller (again) because of the damn shoulder buttons. When you want to rapidly do something (like swinging a baseball bat), those buttons really slow you down. I may have to revisit my collection and see if there are any shooting games that I should rebuy in PS2 or Xbox versions while I can still get them from Gameworld.

One thing that did impress me was how much was packed into this game. In addition to the story mode, it has arcade mode (various versions of "multi" player), challenges (lots of mini-games), and a whole mapmaker utility. You could almost make a career out of this game!

All in all, I really enjoyed playing TS:FP even with some of the problems (Cube controller, long levels without saves, rough controls). I'm sure I'll get back to it from time to time as it is a very simple game to pick up and play again. Just have to remember to shoot more monkeys!

As this is Valentine's Day week, I'm picking a game that has something to do with hearts: Kingdom Hearts.

Other bits: Our FFXI linkshell goes between being annoying and helpful - sometimes within the same evening. We got some more AF gear and have actually put points on our 65's again (as opposed to dying and taking them off)....Playing more Hotel Dusk when the opportunity presents itself. I had to hit the FAQ's again to get past a block that really should have had a better hint.

Monday, February 05, 2007

2K7 Game-a-Week Week #5: Hotel Dusk: Room 215

I rarely get around to playing a game right after I buy it. Gone are the old days when getting a new game was an isolated event that required almost immediate playtime. With huge platform libraries, discount used game prices and other demands on my time, I often just get a game to add it to "The Collection" figuring I'll get around to playing it...someday...soon...I hope. So, it felt a bit odd to be playing a game that the podcasts were still talking about, hearing what they thought about it. And what do I think? Well,...

Visually, HDR215 is stunning in it's style. It's unlike any other game for the DS (or any other platform) that I know of. It's like a moving sketch book or comic and the vertical orientation of the device further enhances that feeling. The developers and publisher need to be congratulated for trying something so different in an era of game clones and media license crapware. But is it a good game? That depends.

I just finished "Chapter 1" at lunch which is supposed to cover 30 minutes of time in the game. That section probably took about 3 to 4 hours to play. Some of this time was spent just reading the interaction text between characters which could have really benefited from some editorial cutting or voice work. Hey, even GBA's Max Payne had speech! When you have to click to continue on everyone's piece of dialogue, a simple exchange takes way longer than it would in, say, a movie. (A couple of people on the podcasts complained about the speed of the text, but I found it fast enough to read, just more to read than I would have liked. Might be an age thing.) The rest of the time I played was spent trying to do things to the environment which usually I couldn't (a sandbox game this isn't). This is (at least so far) a very rigid point-and-click adventure to the point that I had to go back and ask questions of one character before I could get any farther. Insisting that you have additional conversations with an NPC should not be a prereq for continuing the game. Just work it into the script already! At this point, I've only had a few touch screen interactions (solving a jigsaw puzzle, picking things up, bending a paperclip, etc) so the action has been slow. If this were a movie, I would have been snoring a long time ago. I hope it doesn't turn into Hotel Myst. Oh, and a quick note, I don't really think plot quizzes should be used as level bosses.

But, all is not lost. I do find the story interesting, even if I have a bad feeling it will end up in some sort of Twilight Zone-esque twist and there are 9 more chapters to get through. Maybe it will pick up. I had originally planned to do the SMT:N thing again (go for another week) but I think I will pick a new game instead (in this case Timesplitters Future Perfect for the Cube) and keep working on Hotel Dusk when I can't be at a console (ie, lunch, appointments).

Other bits: FFVI for GBA comes out this week. A must buy for Wednesday....The new linkshell we joined has helped some (got two Assault locations and one promy), but we've taken a few casualties. Jury is still out.