Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Back to the Past #1 - A PS2 Retro Gaming Kickoff

The other night I found myself without a PC to game on, my current system being down for cleaning. This got me to thinking about all the Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube games I have next to my computer desk, all  neatly shelved and alphabetically sorted. I began to think that if I'm such a proponent of the "good ol' days" of gaming, I should be willing to go back and actually play these old titles - many of which I HAVE NEVER PLAYED!

So, why not go back and at least try some of the hundreds of games I have and see how they've held up over the years? If not, what's the purpose to keep them all around?

That's how this "Back to the Past" series started.

I decided to start with the Xbox games first, but it was not to be and it highlighted one of the problems inherent to retro gaming. On trying to power on my Xbox console, I found that the power adapter (an upgraded model with a built-in breaker) was now faulty and would not work.

I've always been concerned about what it takes to keep a retro game "alive". It's not just having the disk; you need a working console, cables (and component cables if you want the picture to look half way decent), and controllers. You may also need memory cards and power supplies that are equally hard to obtain anymore. Then there are the upgrades for that generation of consoles - namely wireless controllers as opposed to the standard wired ones. None of these can be taken for granted because no one is making them anymore.

With Xbox not an option for now, I skipped ahead to my PS2 collection. I'm planning on doing this on a straight alphabetical order, taking the good with the bad. However, I won't be playing every game during this play through. I actually have played some of my old games, and when I come across those, I'll give my impressions of what they were like. If I really don't remember the game (or if I just want to try it again), I'll pop it into the console.

Note: The items in parenthesis after the title are Developer/Publisher/Year of Release.

.hack 1-4 (CyberConnect2/Bandai/2003, 2003, 2003, 2004) : Played #1, Infection, before.

An interesting series of JRPG's where you are actually playing a game within a game. You play a character who is playing a game himself, a sort of MMO. Events in that online game begin affect your friends in the "outer" game world. Yeah, sort of confusing to explain - it reminds me of the movie "Inception"! I never got too involved in it, but someday I'd like to watch the anime DVD's that came with each one - a unique pack-in for a game.

007 Nightfire (Eurocom Entertainment Software/EA/2002) : Played before.

As about as generic a shooter as you could make out of the James Bond license. There are lots of better FPS games out there to play.

007 Everything or Nothing (EA Redwood Shores/EA/2004) : Played before.

I've actually played a fair amount of this one and really enjoyed it. The designers came at it like the game was a new James Bond movie on its own. They got voices and likenesses of Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, and Willem Dafoe, and even wrote a James Bond movie style opening song - pretty classy for the times. This is one game I might go back and really try to complete someday.

Ace Combat 4 and Ace Combat 5 (Namco/Namco/2001 and 2004) : Played both before.

The game(s) break down into two sections - aerial combat missions that are more arcade action than simulation, and anime style cut scenes about the fictitious war the game is set in along with a lot of "war is bad"/"flying white doves" bits. I could probably play more of both of these, but I haven't, as the saying goes, just "gotten into them" yet.

Activision Anthology (Contraband Entertainment/Activision/2002) : Played before.

I think every retro gamer has a limit on how far they are willing to turn back the technology clock. For me, it's before you get to the NES and Atari 2600 days. Games from those days, especially the Atari 2600, feel like web browser Flash games now. I do feel that collections like this are very important for the preservation of gaming history and the extras they include are often quite interesting, but please don't make me play any more River Raid. Ever!

AEon Flux (Terminal Reality/Majesco Games/2005) : Played before.

Like the vast majority of movie tie-in games, this one is just plain bad. While they went through the trouble to get the likeness and voice of the movie's star, Charlize Theron, they put the game in a ridiculous setting that bears no resemblance to the movie - an underground city with robots and guards during some sort of crazy fashion show! Such a shame. The movie was pretty good and if they had been really daring, they could have tried a game based on the animated series. It would have raised a lot of eye brows and probably sold well just based on how the cartoon character is dressed.

Amplitude (Harmonix Music Systems/Sony/2003) : New.

This was Harmonix's second attempt at a music rhythm game, and it's amazing how little things have changed over the years. Basically, this is almost identical to the portable versions of Rock Band and the recent Rock Band Blitz release - same switching tracks and hitting note discs. Not very interesting by today after years of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Ape Escape 2 and 3 (Sony Japan/Ubisoft/2003 and 2006) : Both new.

Very similar game design between them (you play as a kid who has to catch monkeys that are being controlled through special hats by an evil "smarter" monkey), but AE3 has a story that pokes fun at movies, so I've been playing more of it. Part of the joy of this "back to the past" exploration is finding games like this (from Ubisoft, by the way and more about that in a sec) that were made before controller layouts became so standardized. In this game, you select items to use on the monkeys with the face buttons, then swing/activate them with the right thumbstick. You jump with the R1 OR R2 button, and do a change to an upgraded character by pressing both R1 and R2. And this is all just in the first hour or so of play! As for the Ubisoft note, I can't help but think this would be an interesting way for the Rabbid's franchise to go.

Console in the Wild Entries:

CITW #2 - Costco again. Kid playing on a blue 3DS XL. Too bad I didn't have mine for a StreetPass.
CITW #3 - Passed a guy outside of a Starbucks with a white 3DS (XL, I think). He was, however, actually playing/using a smart phone, so not sure if this really counts. I do wish I had asked him where he got the all while model though.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Borderlands - The Next Hour (or so) and first CITW

I went back into Borderlands the other night and started up a Hunter and a Siren (Lilith). As I suspected, there isn't much difference between the classes at the beginning - everyone starts out with a gun of some sort. Once you level up, you can start picking abilities to attack or defend with. I think I'm going to stick with Lilith, if for no other reason than I like to hear her little quips during battles.

My favorite weapon so far is a pistol with a 4X scope on it. It lets me get "up close and personal" with my targets. And there a lot of them! I'm not really used to a game where gun-toting raiders are considered wandering monsters! I'm trying to do a little shopping at the grenade vending machine, and bandits come into town and start a gunfight. No manners whatsoever! There also seem to be these mutant "skags" everywhere so just going across the street to complete a little quest burns up a clip or two of SMG ammo.

But, I'd say I'm enjoying it so I'll stick with it for awhile and see what happens.

Oh, and I fixed the screen tearing issue with a change to one of the games INI files and sped up the framerate by dropping the game down into DX9 compatibility mode.

CITW #1 - which stands for Console In The Wild. With the shift from handheld consoles like Gameboys, DS's and PSP's to iPhones, iPads, and Androids, I'm starting to take note any time I see a kid (or adult, for that matter) using a good ol' fashioned game system. In case you hadn't noticed, it's getting to be a rare occurrence! My first sighting for this (and it's been awhile already) was over the weekend at a Costco - a boy playing a silver Gameboy Advance SP. Keep the faith, kid!

Friday, September 06, 2013

Borderlands - First Impressions

I got a chance to play a little Borderlands last night (about an hour's worth) and since I basically came at this one with very little background on it, I thought I'd put down a few notes.

In no particular order, here is what I think so far:

  • I love that the Cage the Elephant song, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked", is actually in the game! So often the publisher just uses a catchy song for the trailers, but you never hear it after that. Kudos!
  • Could Gearbox have made the video tuning any more confusing? It is sorely missing a "Suggested Settings" button. I'm no novice at games, but I don't know what practically any of the video options really do and, more importantly, which ones will tax my video and CPU setup. The default startup is no help, configuring the game to 640x480 and turning off everything else. And the one thing I could really use, and it doesn't have, is a V-sync toggle! I'm seeing some annoying screen tearing.
  • I like the cell-shaded art design (ie, comic-book look), but maybe that's because I've been playing a lot of The Walking Dead recently and have just gotten used to it. If it looked more "real", you'd think you were playing Rage.
  • Biggest disappointment so far has to be that while the trailers gave you the impression you were going to be fighting with a group of 4 characters, you have to pick one at the beginning and, I'm guessing, stick with him/her for the duration of the game. I chose the Soldier since he seemed the basic CoD type, but I have to wonder how the Hunter and Tank(?) would be different. More hand-to-hand with the Hunter, but how do you get close enough without being shot too much? I guess the Tank can use heavier weapons? Obviously, the chick can use some sorts of magic. I'll have to try the other classes and see the differences. The Soldier might be too ordinary to play the whole game with.
  • They don't waste any time getting you into the action. I was shooting wasteland raiders almost as soon as I got off the bus. Can't complain about lengthy opening cut scenes.
  • Not sure about the shooting mechanics yet. Yeah, I know, I'm in the early part of the game and I do know you get upgraded weapons as you progress, but I'd like to see a bit more reaction from my targets when I three-shot burst them with my assault rifle. Seems like it takes a few too many bullets to put them down. At least ammo isn't an issue as there is lots of it around. Even in toilets!
  • Why is "aiming" with the pistol practically useless? It looks like the targeting reticle disappears when you try it.
  • Even at this early stage, some of the game feels clunky. I've had characters try to talk to me while mission overviews and completion notices pop-up over them that are accompanied by sound effects.
  • At least so far, I'm finding Claptrap very funny!
So, that's all for now. Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Dead Duke Rage Space Limbo

Does the title of this post make sense? Well, to me it sort of does.

I think of it as a new beginning.

Last night, I cleaned off a few games from my PC that I've either completed (Dead Space and Limbo) or should really move on from (Duke Nukem Forever and Rage). The latter ones were holding me back, especially Rage that I had bought new DLC for. While I enjoyed Rage, there are other games out there I would like to play, and trying to get a fairly "meh" add-on working just wasn't a good use of game-time. The game would either lose audio or start and stop randomly. Glad that didn't happen when I was playing it through.

Currently I'm thinking about diving into Borderlands, but XCom is also a serious contender. My collection of Steam games is over 500 now, so I think I can find something to play! I played some of the Bit.Trip games after my "purge" and I have to ask, "Why are they so fricking hard?!" They are probably good for reaction training, given that my reactions have slowed down considerably over the years, but would checkpoints really have spoiled things that much? Sheesh!

Lots of talk about the upcoming console releases. Both the PS4 and Xbox One are releasing in November, and the Wii U is heading into it's second holiday season. With the mountains of games I still have to play, I don't see getting any of them for a long time, but I know I'm not the target audience, so no big surprise. I think there will be a new PC in 2014, however, as my dual core CPU is starting to seem underpowered.

It's interesting now that games are either low-spec-requirement indies, or super-high-end AAA franchise offerings from 2 or 3 main publishers. The whole middle range of games has pretty much vanished. And the #1 game people are playing online isn't WoW, it's LoL, and everyone is designing MOBA's because of it.