“Madden NFL 12″: An uneven but enjoyable experienceShawn Drotar

Posted on September 26th, 2011 in Gaming by Shawn Drotar

Madden NFL, EA Sports’ flagship title, is often a victim of paralysis by analysis - while the design team constantly tries to upgrade the game in order to keep returning fans happy, obvious concerns tend to be overlooked or bumped down in priority, resulting in an odd amalgamation of free-wheeling, enjoyable play and - ahem - maddening inconsistencies.

It’s remarkable then, given its nature, that this year’s Madden is the most fun version of the game in years, and likely the finest iteration of the current-console generation.

The gameplay is classic Madden, of course, but with the added wrinkle of vastly-improved collision detection. In virtually any video game where human bodies are represented, gaming code essentially reduces those humans to cylinders, which have shrunk in diameter over the years. When those cylinders came into contact with each other, the speed and angle would trigger a canned animation; in Madden’s case, tackles.

Now the technology has improved to the point where the in-game humans have “skeletons” and limbs that can be impacted, reducing the number of canned animations and allowing for a more naturalistic and varied set of unscripted (or, at least, less-frequently scripted) animations.

The way this changes the game is immediately noticeable and a vast improvement. Contests become more dynamic, more unpredictable and more exciting, ensuring many happy returns for football gamers.

There are a few flies in the ointment, however. That classic Madden gameplay comes complete with some classic Madden foibles; namely the hyper-effectiveness of slant patterns and the inability for the CPU to mount a consistent running game. Despite the improved collision detection, offensive lineman still simply ignore an inordinate amount of obvious blocking opportunities and penalties (save clipping) rarely occur at all. This is all too familiar to regular Madden gamers, which makes it even more surprising that these issues were not rectified.

Madden’s ballyhooed overhaul of the game’s presentation proves to be rather underwhelming. While the game thrills with a fabulous introductory movie and features interesting camera angles of the stadium and team introductions, in-game presentation is bland, with few statistical overlays and a disastrous commentary track that’s inexcusably shabby for a top-flight title like Madden. Oddly, little if any blame can be placed on the commentators. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth are enthusiastic and entertaining, but they simply don’t have enough to say - and even when they do, it’s often incorrect. Moreover, new commentary for this year was recorded at a completely different level then last year’s, which would be comical if wasn’t so sad. For a game in which the commentators are the main sound you’ll hear during play, it’s hard to believe that this track somehow made it to disc.

Madden’s commentary is the worst in the business for any high-profile sports game, by far.  It’s an embarrassment that detracts from the otherwise high quality of the title, and brings the whole package down a few notches. Sure, it sounds superficial, but it’s hard to sell even a Ferrari when the paint job’s a mess.

In the end, this is a detailed, entertaining experience; a terrific product for any NFL or football fan, despite a few annoyances. But if you turn the commentary off and savor the in-stadium feel of the game, it’s hard not to be hooked, and it’s clear that there’s a foundation for something even better in the future.

Sports games are often maligned in the gaming press, but the truth is that for the amount of time gamers can play it, they tend to offer better bang for the buck than any other genre, even if they do come out every year. Madden NFL 12 fits that bill and then some.

***

A few other observations:

- The game’s default speed is almost comically fast. Fortunately, there is a game speed setting, and on the lower levels, the game’s allowed to breathe a bit, improving the realism.

- Most settings saved to your user profile carry over into other modes without the opportunity to change them (the accelerated clock in Franchise mode springs to mind). It’s unclear at first why that happens, and it’s not explained in the game’s on-disc manual. Improved clarity in the future is necessary.

- Many in-game menus are very slow to respond, especially at the team selection screen prior to a game. It seems that this is due to connectivity to EA’s servers, but it’s impossible to be certain.

- Imported rookies in Franchise mode receive position-appropriate jersey numbers; a huge step up in realism. It’s an under-the-radar, but important addition.

- The in-game soundtrack is solid enough, but for an E-rated game, there are an awful lot of “F-bombs” therein. Sure, they’re omitted, but it’s a poor fit. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of a conversation after a child sees “Get The **** Up” scroll across the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

So Where’s The Beer?Shawn Drotar

Posted on August 16th, 2011 in Gaming, Xbox 360 by Shawn Drotar

Are you ready for some football?

I’ve got Madden NFL 12, which curiously arrived in a pizza box from Papa John’s (they’re running a $5 discount on the game through EA’s Origin.com), so I’m ready to dig into this year’s highly-anticipated football title.

There’s an embargo on in-game content until August 26th - believe me, the big media outlets can ensure that simple blogging folk like me don’t start scooping them - but I’m happy to take any questions you may have, and I’ll discuss them as soon as I’m able.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter as well (@SDrotar_EAGC) and ask your questions there.

It’s a “Game Changer” for 5WGShawn Drotar

Posted on August 16th, 2011 in Gaming, Opinion by Shawn Drotar
After a long period of soul-searching, I’ve decided to return to 5WG with an intent to get back to my first gaming love - the world of sports.

As a sportswriter and editor by trade, the confluence of real-life sports leagues and their digital counterparts has created a fascinating landscape, one that I’m eager to explore again.

To that end, I’ve joined the EA Sports Game Changers program; a collection of gamers like myself, who have access to EA’s game developers and management in a streamlined fashion, which I hope will enable me to bring the sports gaming community’s feedback and ideas directly to the people that make the games they play.

I have never - and don’t plan to - run advertisements or try to make money off of this site in any way. Like always, I’m trying to make games better and help them gain traction as the preeminent form of entertainment in the 21st Century.

When I joined Game Changers, it was with the understanding of both parties that I’m no evangelist - they have marketing folks for that stuff, and I have no desire to become one. They aren’t compensating me in any way, save the opportunity to evaluate games at an earlier date than usual, nor would I accept any other such compensation. In the end, I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror and ensure that I’m running this site for the right reasons - the betterment of gamers everywhere.

I will endeavor, as I always have, to remain impartial. If I don’t think a title is a quality one - any title - I’ll tell you. I don’t want to play poor games, nor would I want you to. There will be no favoritism toward EA Sports, though I suspect that my in-advance views of certain titles would generate coverage. If any other developer were to offer me the same opportunity, I’ll take it - as long as didn’t come with strings attached.

I’m excited about this new perspective, and I hope that it’s something that you find value in. I can’t wait to start discussing it all with you.

The More Things Change…Shawn Drotar

Posted on July 5th, 2011 in Gaming by Shawn Drotar

In the gaming world, it’s important to understand that there will always be ebbs and flows with regard to quality, but in my experience, no game developer sets out to make a poor title. I never question their work ethic. Making games is hard work.

That said, we live in a world of consumerism - if any product sells well enough the way it is, then don’t expect changes. If it doesn’t? Well, then, savvy game manufacturers occasionally look to places like this to see how they might be able to sell more copies to others.

When I created 5WG, that was always goal No. 1 - constructive criticism for developers, but always for the sole purpose of making certain that consumers - gamers - got the best bang for their buck.

Hopefully, the products fit the bill out of the box, and the release-then-patch mentality that seems to permeate today’s games is nothing less than vile - those that complain that they’re basically paying $60 to become beta testers aren’t that far off from the truth.

However, rather than having no recourse at all and being stuck with a game we’re unhappy with, we have, well, each other - like-minded, solution-oriented individuals who choose to roll up their sleeves and pick up the slack for no other reason than the fact that we all share the same hobby. That’s what makes gaming different than any other entertainment medium.

You can’t fix an underwhelming movie, book or music release, but clever people like the ones in the gaming community can - and usually do - offer something to help their fellow gamer feel like their time and money isn’t wasted.

For every thousand foolish, profanity-spewing punks online, for every hundred racist, sexist, homophobic morons on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, there’s someone else, here or on other gamer-centric sites, who’s trying to make gaming more fun for their fellow man and woman… just because they want to.

Believe me, it’s not for nothing. I’ve seen the difference it makes first-hand.
Thanks for making that difference.

Sound and FuryShawn Drotar

Posted on August 4th, 2010 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

When the demo for Madden NFL 11 was released, there was a clamor and din rising from veteran Madden gamers on Internet forums, primarily centered around the addition of the “Strategy Pad”, a new way of making pre-snap adjustments within the game.

Without belaboring the point, the complaints generally fell into a select few categories:

1. I liked it the way it was.

2. I don’t want to memorize something different.

3. I can’t make a dozen changes in five seconds like I could before.

Now, of course, Madden is often the poster child for Internet forum-dwellers that complain that yearly sports games don’t innovate enough, so these complaints are fascinating at the very least. The dirty little secret with Madden’s pre-snap adjustments over the years - to those who play online, anyway - is that far too many gamers use their memorized button patterns to “nano-blitz”, among other exploits, to ensure victory against less experienced - or more scrupulous - players.

Now, it’s perfectly fair to say that repairing these holes in Madden’s engine that allow these exploits should be a priority for the developers, and the advent of the Strategy Pad - which reduces the number of possible pre-snap moves simply due to the mechanism itself - may provide little more than a cover for those holes, but it’s also worth noting that it’s more realistic.

In the NFL, even the wildly gesticulating Peyton Manning doesn’t have time to get to the line of scrimmage and call three hot routes, change his blocking scheme and flip the play direction. But in past Maddens, gamers could. And frankly, it was a little ridiculous. The Strategy Pad would have alleviated that and added to the game’s realism, all while making the game a bit more accessible to new players.

“Would have”, because EA Sports caved in to the squeaky wheels once more, and cut their own innovation off at the knees.

Madden’s creative director, Ian Cummings, while rather clearly pointing out why the Strategy Pad was created and why it’s a better system going forward, finished his blog post with this: “We do believe that this change is for the better, and that in the long run it delivers a much more positive experience to the gamers that are willing to try and adapt. Due to the overwhelming feedback however, we will be providing the old-style button commands as an option that can be enabled. We are currently targeting this change to be released around the first week of the NFL season as it will take some time to get through third party approvals.”

I understand Cummings’ dilemma. Here, even before the game is released, you have a vocal minority of rabid fans ripping the game’s demo before it’s even released, and you feel a need to compensate. I can sympathize. But it’s still unwise. Here’s why.

First, How many of the gamers that are complaining now would have actually chosen not to purchase the game? What other options do they have? There are no other NFL games on the market - and they’re obviously huge Madden fans. I’d be willing to bet that very few, if any, sales would have been lost by sticking to their guns and allowing the game that they believed in during its creation to see the light of day, unaltered.

Second, how many new customers would have been lost had EA Sports not changed the command scheme to allow the Strategy Pad to be bypassed? Any? The system was complicated and generally only benefited veterans of the series, and any of those folks who tried to explain why new gamers should skip a purchase due to not being able to press Y, then X then flick the right stick up for a fly pattern would have likely been met with blank stares. Again, no discernible loss in sales there, either.

Third, EA Sports did the same thing with the latest iteration of their boxing sim, Fight Night. Instead of sticking with their intuitive, innovative controls, the publisher patched the game to allow button-mashing after caving into the howls of the forum mobs, killing the flow and nuance of the title and resulting in a toxic mishmash of performance that cratered in the marketplace and left copies languishing on the store shelves.

Essentially, there was nothing tangible to lose by keeping the faith, by trusting in the developers’ judgment; something EA Sports did during Madden’s entire design process. And there was much to gain; a chance for increased realism, an improved track record of innovation and an opportunity to move the series forward quickly. Instead, by allowing themselves to be cyber-bullied by a disorganized group that would have had essentially zero effect on their bottom line, Madden has already missed on these opportunities, giving back the exploit powers to the would-be cheaters and encouraging intellectual sloth among their users.

And all this before the game’s even been released. It’s like training for year to run a marathon, lining up at the start, and then leaving right before the starter’s gun goes off because someone in the stands said they didn’t like the color of your shoes.

To EA Sports, I offer only this - while feedback and focus groups are wonderful tools, have a little faith in yourselves, too. Give yourselves a chance to succeed before declaring yourselves a failure, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

NCAA Football 11 grinds out the yardsShawn Drotar

Posted on July 16th, 2010 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Reviews, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

It’s summertime, and while sports fans are still soaking in baseball’s Midsummer Classic, sports gaming fans have been flush with anticipation of EA Sports’ latest college gridiron title, NCAA Football 11.

Year in and year out, the NCAA game tries to carve out a niche in a ever-shrinking release window (this year, it’s less than a month) before its own big brother, the Madden NFL series, all but drowns it in hype and attention.

NCAA Football deserves better than that, of course, but such is life for a yearly release title. Along with that are the burden of increased expectations and the need to satiate the desires of the “hardcore” gamers that can be counted upon to purchase every iteration - and nitpick every niggling detail that isn’t to their liking.

It’s a difficult road to walk, despite the nearly automatic profitability of the series. This year, NCAA Football 11 has trodden their path more deliberately than usual, providing their customers with an impressive on-field experience; impressive enough that its few slights can be forgiven.

The first thing any gamer is likely to notice when playing a game of NCAA Football 11 is how realistically players move with regard to momentum and mass. Agile halfbacks and barrel-chested defensive ends don’t move in the same fashion, and while the effect isn’t pronounced on a player-by-player basis, the overall effect when 22 men are on the field completely changes the way that the game is played - and for the better.

NCAA Football 11 isn’t about hammering down the “sprint” button and making for the corner on every play anymore; new blocking mechanics and improved collision detection makes each play a unique experience, especially when the game is set to “slow” speed (one notch below the default setting), when the intricacies of the new, dynamic playmaking can be enjoyed at a more absorb-able pace.

Indeed, the “sprint” button can be taken out of the equation entirely. A new addition to the game, the “helper” setting in the control scheme, sounds as if it’s supposed to simplify the game, but that’s selling it short. Much like removing the “turbo” command from the NHL series of games revitalized that game’s hidden strategic heart, NCAA’s “helpers” serve much the same purpose. Sprinting and defensive “strafing” (side-stepping to keep your body square to the ball-carrier) can be set to automatic - in other words, instead of trying to contort your hands to do something that a real player would do instinctively, the player will… you know, do it “instinctively”. In real-life football, players generally don’t sprint at full speed until they can run in a straight line, but in video games, gamers oftentimes press the “sprint” button as soon as they have the ball. Now that momentum affects player movement, sprinting while turning actually hampers those turns, like in real life. The auto-sprint alleviates that concern, and my assumption is that this is a first step towards eliminating the manual command entirely in future EA Sports football games. It says here that doing so would be a wise decision.

Further flattening the learning curve is a play-calling scheme that distills your team’s specific playbook down from 100-plus plays down to a dozen or so. The game selects an array of plays that would be the most sensible to call, given down and distance, speeding up the game for would-be coaches. Of course, if you want the full playbook at your disposal, it’s only a click away, and you can go back and forth at any time. It’s simple and very effective.

Last, but not least, is the new one-button mode, which is likely to be overlooked by veteran gamers. But if you have a significant other, young children, or anyone else who’s a football fan but stares at a game controller as if you just handed them a porcupine, it’s a godsend. One-button mode takes all the game’s pertinent commands, and maps them to one button. Yes, it’s for new players, but since two-player games can have one team using standard controls and the other using one-button controls, your wife/girlfriend/whomever can share a little gaming fun with you immediately, and perhaps a new sports gamer is born. As Mel Kiper Jr. might say, there’s nothing but upside here.

The game’s Dynasty mode, which lets gamers take over their favorite program and build them into a national championship contender, is instantly familiar but gets a huge boost with enhanced online functionality, including a nifty tool called the Dynasty Wire which will keep all the owners in the loop regarding everything that’s happening in your multiplayer league.

Teambuilder, last year’s smash hit feature, allowed gamers to create any teams they wanted from their own imagination an bring them into the game via the Internet. NCAA Football 11 wisely allows last year’s teams to be imported, and allows new ones to be created as well. I’ve had as much fun re-creating my high school’s football team during my senior year as I have with anything in Dynasty mode. It’s simply terrific.

It’s not all wine and roses, of course. Even though the game’s ESPN integration was highly-touted, it actually seems to have taken a step backwards. While in-game replays have undoubtedly improved, the announcing has become stale, stat overlays are practically nonexistent, and even the new team introductions are underwhelming. Hopefully, this is a focus going forward, because what’s on the field is too good to diminish with such underwhelming presentation.

The game’s Road to Glory mode, NCAA’s “career” feature, has gone essentially untouched from last year. It’s frankly dull, consisting mainly of menu navigation, and the full-motion videos of ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews are the same ones as last year… either that, or she hasn’t changed clothes yet. That, plus the rather tacky “bumper” screens during loading that flout Andrews’, um… popularity (”That’s right, we said Erin Andrews!”) give the impression that the mode exists, at least in part, merely to capitalize on Andrews’ physical attractiveness. In this state, Road to Glory might have been better off expunged from this year’s title entirely.

All that aside, the main focus of every game is how it plays, and the fact of the matter is that NCAA Football 11 plays better, plays smarter and plays more beautifully than any game in this generation of consoles, if ever. It’s terrific fun - for players of all skill levels, finally - and it deserves its place in the sun.

Hopefully, it finds a way to see much more of it after the Madden blackout, currently scheduled for August 10. If you’re a football fan at all, NCAA Football 11 is worth your playing time. Now… and then.

Standing Upon A Burning SpanShawn Drotar

Posted on July 6th, 2010 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Back in 1990, The Hunt for Red October established actor Alec Baldwin as an up-and-coming star; his good looks, charm and dynamic portrayal of government agent Jack Ryan convinced many in Hollywood that Baldwin was the ever-elusive “Next Big Thing”.

But something happened on the way to Red October’s inevitable sequel, Patriot Games, in 1992. Baldwin was replaced as Ryan by Harrison Ford, even though the veteran actor was even more expensive to cast and Baldwin’s portrayal of Ryan was almost universally acclaimed.

Why? Simply put, hubris. Baldwin thought he was untouchable; on top of the world. And then he started to make bad decisions - burning bridges within his own industry as he went.

In a 1991 interview with Entertainment Weekly following the flop The Marrying Man, a film Baldwin made for Disney based on a Neil Simon screenplay, Baldwin unleashed his anger at those he saw responsible for the film’s failure, including the Disney studios: “totally evil, greedy pigs”; playwright Simon: “about as deep as a bottle cap”; and Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg: “He’s the eighth dwarf - Greedy”.

Unsurprisingly, given the influence of the people that Baldwin went out of his way to insult, his star quickly faded and while his career indeed continued, his fame has only now reached its previous level, as a co-star in NBC’s 30 Rock, almost 20 years later.

The parallels between Baldwin’s situation and the video-game world only seem tangential, but as similarities between the film and gaming industries continue to grow, with ever-expanding budgets, carefully researched release dates and bombastic opening weekends becoming the norm, it’s only a matter of time before someone of note cuts off his nose to spite his face.

Take the bitter - and patently juvenile - rivalry between 2K Sports and EA Sports in the basketball arena, for example. Over the last few years, 2K Sports has had the superior product, putting the gaming Goliath at Electronic Arts on its heels. In both sales and quality, 2K Sports has had EA Sports scrambling, constantly re-shuffling its developers, its game design, and now, even its very title - from the long-running NBA Live to NBA Elite - in a desperate effort to keep pace with 2K Sports on the last remaining sports battlefield in the gaming industry.

But 2K Sports can’t seem to resist reveling in the fact that they’re winning this battle. I attended an NBA Elite event in New York City shortly before the NBA Draft; an small get-together of media, community and NBA athletes, joined with game developers to showcase what was essentially a tech demo of the forthcoming basketball title. It could hardly be described as a “game” as that point; merely a one-on-one battle that served as an opportunity to try out the new control scheme. Taking video of the event was strictly forbidden, I was told.

Nevertheless, video footage of the demo (which was in “alpha” - or early development form) turned up online. The video itself, which was posted on YouTube by someone who thought their “scoop”, such as it was, was more important than their professionalism, is now listed as “private”. Judging a game on a alpha-build demo is completely unfair, something that I’d imagine most developers would agree with… including those at 2K Sports.

But that didn’t stop 2K Sports representative Ronnie Singh, who was responsible for some of the inter-corporate nonsense last year, from responding to this bit of, um, prose on Twitter (”LMAO this sux it cant even compete with 2k9… (Elite 11) this really bad“) thusly: “Wow that looks awful. And you were worried.”

In other words, here we go again.

For Singh, and for anyone else who speaks, types or Tweets before they think, they’d do well to remember the lessons of Alec Baldwin. In an industry where everyone works with everyone, and personnel turn over like waffles in a breakfast buffet, you never know who your next boss will be. Notable developer and basketball guru Mike Wang, for example, now works on NBA 2K11 after working on NBA Live 10 only a year ago. The next person you offend with thoughtless comments might be the next person you need to hire you.

The most effective comment, after all, is quality work, and it speaks volumes without having to say a single word. Maybe that’s worth a try this time around, but I wouldn’t count on it - not when the purpose of a “community manager” is simply to stoke the fanboy flames.

Watch where you step.

Extra Life!Shawn Drotar

Posted on July 1st, 2010 in Gaming by Shawn Drotar

It’s been so long, I’ve been out of my body with you
I feel alone, feel at home, feel like nothing is true

She took me to a place where my senses gave way, turn it ’round, shut it down, what the people say
Climbing up, killin’ time, let ‘em give you some, take my hand and let it come, let it come, let it…

Take it back when she knows that you’re doing it right
‘Cause everybody else knows what they’re taking tonight

Well, I just want to play it right
We’re gonna get there tonight

“Ghosts N Stuff”, Joel “Deadmau5″ Zimmerman & Rob Swire

***

Finally healthy, rested and re-energized, I’m excited to leap back into the gaming fray once more. With summer upon us and the fall and winter gaming seasons fast approaching, I look forward to sharing the latest games with you again… those of you who stuck with me, that is. I sincerely apologize for my abrupt and lengthy disappearance, but I’ve returned from the digital Bermuda Triangle and starting Monday, I intend to be here on a weekly basis to tour the wonderful world of gaming once more. I hope you join me.

It’s good to be back.

On The Radar: November 2009Shawn Drotar

Posted on November 2nd, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, PC Gaming, Playstation 3, News, Opinion, Wii, Nintendo DS by Shawn Drotar

It’s going to be a busy-but-slow month in 5WGaming-land. I’m moving in November and I’ll also be traveling for much of the month, so unfortunately, the content flow here is likely to slow down to a drip until December. But that might not be an entirely bad thing, because there’s so much to play!

In October, one of the very best games of the year debuted in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, while top-notch sequels like Forza Motorsport 3 and FIFA Soccer 10 returned for another go-round and were joined by innovative titles like the wildly adventurous Borderlands and surprisingly fresh DJ Hero.

If you’re anything like me, you may still be only scratching the surface of these titles, but November’s got even more in store. Let’s take a quick look at some of the more interesting games of November, in order of their release.

***
Dragon Age: Origins (Electronic Arts): November 3 (PS3, X360, PC)

OK, let’s break this down. It’s a role-playing game. From BioWare (Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Baldur’s Gate). The game’s developers have stated that the fantasy world’s more than double the size and scope of Mass Effect’s. Feel free to read that sentence again. They’ve reportedly improved upon Mass Effect’s combat system and the game allows for more robust character creation. And like virtually every BioWare RPG, it’s expected to be a rollicking tale full of moral ambiguity, allowing you to play the game however you want want to. Expect to once again lose yourself in another astoundingly rich universe from the development studio that’s more or less become the final word in the genre.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision): November 10 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

It’s rumored that dozens of games had their release dates either pushed up or moved back to get out of the way of this title, which may very well become one of the best-selling in history. The first Modern Warfare was a revelation in the first-person shooter genre; not only in its absolutely pitch-perfect multiplayer gameplay, but in it’s brave story, which - given the genre - deserves a great deal of credit for taking bold steps in both narrative and character development. There were genuine moments of sadness and uneasiness in that game, something essentially unheard of in a first-person shooter before, and Modern Warfare 2 looks to push the genre forward, including a controversial scene of terrorist activity that’s been leaked onto the Internet. Now, it’s my belief that it’s incredibly unfair to judge any title from leaked footage, unattached by context to it’s original source, and this is no different (Which is why I won’t link to the footage). But ask yourself this: in games in which the player takes part as the “criminal”, say Grand Theft Auto, The Godfather or even Facebook’s Mafia Wars, do you feel any guilt, remorse or the slightest hesitation about what you’re doing, even if it is purely a mental exercise? And if you did, wouldn’t that really be a good thing? The fact that this game - which to many uneducated people’s minds is simply another brainless-thug shooter - brings these topics to the fore proves that it’s anything but. Whether you’re a fan of FPS games or not, Modern Warfare 2 demands - and deserves - your attention.

NCAA Basketball 2010 (Electronic Arts): November 17 (X360, PS3)

NCAA Basketball 2009 flew under the radar upon it’s release last year, which is a shame, because it was the most fun basketball game on the market, exceeding NBA 2K9 and NBA Live 09. That’s right, I said what you thought I said. And I mean it. The game’s innovative tempo system, combined with a terrific crowd environment, brought much of the excitement and passion of college basketball home. This year, the development team added a videogaming first - television broadcast teams and full presentation from two different networks will be present and accounted for in the same game. Both ESPN and CBS will be represented in full, with all their specific graphics, overlays, music, camera angles and announcers, depending on the games you’re playing. In a Tuesday game, you may find yourself on ESPN, while on a weekend tilt, the CBS crew may pick up your game. Go to the “March Madness” tournament, and expect the full CBS flair. Yes, it’s fluff, but it’s innovative fluff added to a highly underrated basketball package. If you’re as sick as I am about the pathetic and childish grade-school sniping going back and forth between 2K Sports and EA Sports regarding their competing pro titles, perhaps a little collegiate action might cleanse your palate.

Assassin’s Creed 2 (Ubisoft): November 17 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

It’s a bit of a shame that there’s so many sequels on this list, but as long as they’re quality ones, I suppose we’re on the right track. Next on the list is Assassin’s Creed 2, the follow-up to the innovative and successful 2007 release. That release was promoted heavily - and somewhat misleadingly - by featuring the pretty face of then-producer Jade Raymond, but the game is essentially the brainchild of designer Patrice Desilets, who understands that as terrific as the first few hours of Assassin’s Creed was, the repetitive gameplay turned finishing the game into a mind-numbing slog, only to punish the gamer with an almost uniformly reviled and unsatisfying cliffhanger ending. Desilets has set out to right those wrongs by completely revamping the game’s AI and varying the missions, which, along with a change of venue - in this case, trading the Holy Land of the 1100s for Renaissance Italy - should provide for a fresh and interesting experience, even if more than few liberties with the history of flight and the laws of physics have been taken.

Left 4 Dead 2 (Electronic Arts): November 17 (X360, PS3)

Boy, that box is icky. Really unpleasant. Between the Left 4 Dead series boxes and Dead Space’s, dismemberment’s apparently gone mainstream. Even Borderlands‘ box art is pushing it. I’m a little surprised it’s OK to display them openly in stores, frankly. But that’s a topic for another day. Anyway, Valve returns - many would say far, far too soon - with a sequel to last year’s multiplayer hit. The zombie craze is hopefully well on its way to being played out, but in Left 4 Dead’s case, it’s still welcome. The hardest part of online gaming - especially in the first-person-shooter genre - is to get players to work in teams. This game’s predecessor hammered home the necessity for teamwork in smashing, bloody fashion, and the sequel looks to do the same. With generally refined gameplay in almost every area, Left 4 Dead 2 stands to improve upon last year’s title with a spookier down-south setting and another foursome of colorful characters. It’s set to become another heart-fluttering thrill ride that makes staying together the only way to win. Don’t let the kiddies anywhere near this one, though - holy smokes, is it gory. Although, if you didn’t figure that out when you saw the box, perhaps you’re getting what you deserve.

***

All release dates are accurate as of November 2, 2009 and are subject to change.

ScattershotsShawn Drotar

Posted on October 19th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day…

  • The Major League Baseball season is winding down, but Sony’s right in the thick of building next spring’s MLB 10: The Show. On Kotaku, Owen Good interviews two of the game’s graphic designers about creating Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins in 2010. The real-life Target Field isn’t finished yet, making it an obvious challenge for the design team to create an accurate replica. It’s interesting read for those who like learning about the nuts and bolts of game creation.
  • Not surprisingly, the Modern Warfare 2-branded Xbox 360 package is now available for pre-order and scheduled for release on November 10, the same day that the game itself lands on store shelves. The package includes an Xbox 360 Elite with a modified paint job, two controllers, a copy of Modern Warfare 2, of course, and most importantly, a 250-gigabyte hard drive, by more than double the largest available for the Xbox 360 and - for the moment, at least - only available as part of this package. Must… resist…fishing…out…credit…card…
  • In Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Dashboard update, set to take place in November, the new Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm capabilities have been well-known. Today, however, Joystiq discusses the previously unknown News and Music Store additions. The first will further leverage Microsoft’s media arm, including a hefty dose of MSNBC content, one presumes. The second will better organize all the downloadable content available for the Xbox 360’s robust library of music titles, reportedly including the ability to preview the song within the Dashboard itself. If so, that’s a boon for music gamers, especially with the potential of the Rock Band Network, which could flood the Xbox Live Marketplace with songs in relatively short order.
  • Of course, that Music Store addition drives home one of Microsoft’s biggest problems - storage space. On a PlayStation 3, users can buy their own hard drives and install them without voiding their warranty. Want a 750-gigabyte PS3? No problem - spend about 100 bucks and 20 minutes - done. On the Xbox 360, however, space is quickly becoming a problem, and Microsoft’s largest hard drive on individual sale is 120 gigabytes, and it’s priced ridiculously high. Their next Dashboard update will make things worse, with Microsoft’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb stating that the update will disable all third-party memory options. Nice. Perhaps if Microsoft had competitively-priced storage solutions, people won’t be looking for third-party options. But instead, they’ve chosen just about the most consumer-unfriendly path, right when their competition’s hard on their heels. Not the smartest move.
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