Uncharted 2 powers PlayStation revivalShawn Drotar

Posted on October 16th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Naughty Dog’s PlayStation 3 exclusive, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, is earning rave reviews and looking every bit the part of a system-seller. In Japan, the title sold almost seven times as many copies as its predecessor, despite the fact that its box is one ugly baby.

In other words, Uncharted 2’s set to do big business, and not because it’s a big name in the industry - because it earned it. That’s a breath of fresh air. I just nabbed a copy myself, which was surprisingly hard to find. When I have to resort to entering a Wal-Mart, believe me, I’ve tried everywhere else. Even they only had one more copy left, and I suspect it was only because it got stuck behind the title next to it by accident.

This is the game Sony’s been looking for, the one that will finally drive some of the PlayStation 3’s advantages home. But they’re not stopping there, either. In their quest to get their Blu-ray playing console into everyone’s hands - and in the process, make those of us who spent handsomely to buy one at launch look like idiots - Sony will launch a new, 250-gigabyte “Slim” model on November 3 for $349. When comparing that to the Xbox 360, it’s a heck of a deal. I’ve long contended that the Xbox 360’s main advantages over the PS3 are Xbox Live, which is a huge one, and its controller, which is admittedly debatable. But just about everything else is quickly tipping into Sony’s favor.

And don’t underestimate the “hip” factor. Although it sounds ridiculous on the surface, Sony has found an ace in the hole in actor Jerry Lambert, who plays “vice president/director of (insert title here) Kevin Butler” in their ad campaigns this year. From gently poking fun at MLB 09: The Show’s cover athlete, Dustin Pedroia, to deftly mocking Sony’s own ineptitude at squelching rumors to the latest clever ad for Uncharted 2 (below), Lambert’s likable, laughable, pitch-perfect delivery is the perfect antidote to Sony’s often-smug public persona. And it’s helping. A lot. Whatever they’re paying him, it’s probably not enough. In may ways, Lambert’s becoming the new face of Sony - despite the photo of Sony Computer Entertainment honcho Jack Tretton that’s sitting behind “Butler” in his pretend office. And that’s a good thing.


On the road again…Shawn Drotar

Posted on October 9th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion, Wii by Shawn Drotar

With apologies to Willie Nelson, I’ll be traveling until late next week and won’t be posting until next Friday, October 16.

In the meantime, entertain yourselves with a few titles that release next Tuesday, namely Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which has “Game of the Year” written all over it. I’ve played the beta at two different points this year, and without playing the final version yet, I’ve seen enough to unconditionally recommend it. If you have a PlayStation 3, there’s absolutely no excuse not to add this one to your library.

For Xbox 360 gamers, Brutal Legend’s the one to watch. While it doesn’t seem as complete a package as Uncharted 2, its outlandish sense of humor - provided by creator Tim Schaefer - and Jack Black’s scenery-chewing (even as a voice actor) looks to make this game one of the more unique titles released this year. It’s also available for the PlayStation 3.

If you have a Wii and children, or just don’t mind acting like one, Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games should provide the standard Wii fare - more mini-game madness - with better quality than most, providing pick-up-and-play fun for the whole family. The title’s also available for the Nintendo DS, a boon to those who aren’t entirely comfortable with bobsledding by sitting on a Wii Balance Board.

As the month of October goes on, the list of top titles this fall keeps expanding. It’s an exciting time to be a gamer. Too bad about that whole economy thing that’s making it difficult for us to partake in all of it…

Save what pennies you can - we’ll talk about what else is coming down the pike to spend them on next Friday.

NBA Live 10: ReviewShawn Drotar

Posted on October 8th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Reviews, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

After a long wait, a commitment to intelligent, realistic play makes NBA Live a championship contender once more

Bring it back. That’s been the mantra of NBA Live 10’s development team. The once-great series suffered a calamitous fall from grace over the years as it lost its way - and its spot atop the video-game basketball world. Finally, it’s on the rise once again; NBA Live 10 is no curiosity - it’s a worthy addition to any basketball fan’s library.

After residing in a hellish limbo of their own design for years in which the game was neither fish nor fowl - a warmed-over “sim” with sloppy arcade sensibilities - EA Sports finally decided to go all-in and make the latest NBA Live the most realistic game in the series’ long history. There’s no question that the design team had their work cut out for them; despite the extraordinary clout that the EA Sports brand represents, gamers had given the series a vote of no-confidence for years; so over the last 36 months, a constant influx of fresh blood and talent set to revitalizing the moribund franchise, eventually realizing that the only thing truly worth keeping from the past was the name.

First and foremost, the gameplay is… basketball. No longer will you perform a little stick waggle and dunk with regularity, no longer will you hurl cross-court passes and alley-oops without considering the consequences, and no more will you bomb away from the three-point line, figuring you’ll make enough of them that you won’t need to concentrate on other parts of the game. No, NBA Live 10 will make you play basketball - smart, fundamental basketball - or you’ll spend a lot of time losing.

This is a good thing. A very good thing. And it’s about time.

Defense wins championships, it’s said, and for the first time in NBA Live history, it matters more in the game as well. After all, in the NBA, anyone can dunk, lay-up or make an open jumper; the key is stopping them from doing so. The AI takes what you give them, so if you crowd the paint, they’ll drop treys and mid-range jumpers on you all day - learning how to play proper man-to-man and zone defense will make the difference between winning and losing on the harder difficulty levels.

Before we go any further, let’s touch upon those difficulty levels. If you’re not a die-hard basketball fan; you don’t know what a 2-3 zone is and don’t care to, that’s OK; the game’s lower settings will suit you just fine. But if you’re a hoops junkie, then the higher settings will likely provide you with a supreme challenge. It’s worth noting that at the default settings, the AI steals the ball far too often. This does discourage careless play, which isn’t bad at all, but if you’re a stickler like me, don’t be surprised if you soon find yourself tweaking the game’s AI sliders to minimize this somewhat. Frankly, I recommend doing so, but if you do, don’t forget to slightly ratchet up the defensive stopping sliders to compensate.

Back to the gameplay. The game’s control scheme is effective and the right-stick dribble controls have been further refined, allowing for smoother and more creative play with the ball. Two major changes are immediately noticeable, however. The left trigger now controls “freestyle passing”; as you hold the left trigger down, flick the right stick in the direction of the player you wish to pass to, and a faster (and often more stylish) dish is instantly thrown. It’s generally an accurate way of passing, and its a lot of fun. Moreover, it’s a real weapon when the ball’s in the hands of elite point guards like Chris Paul or Steve Nash and it makes running the fast break much easier. It takes some getting used to, but it’s a terrific addition. of course, the left trigger used to back down an opponent in the paint. Now, this happens contextually. Again, this takes getting used to (and depending on your style of play, perhaps a great deal of getting used to), but it works well enough and serves to simplify the control scheme somewhat. A recently-announced patch may add a command to manually back opponents down sometime in November. I’m no fan of patching in new controls post-launch, so we’ll all have to see how this comes about. It seems as though clicking the left stick is the only realistic place to add such a command, which could become problematic, unless EA Sports intends on redesigning the entire command scheme, instantly rendering all their manuals obsolete. But these are issues for a different day. At the moment, what’s there works well, once you become accustomed to it.

Your player can now “size up” his opponent while he’s dribbling by holding the right trigger. Holding it for longer means that your right-stick “Quickstrike” dribble move is more likely to be successful, but it eats the clock and leaves you vulnerable to quick double-teams as well. The game’s new shooting mechanic is easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be; it’s so intuitive that you hardly notice it’s there, but the game plays much better thanks to its addition. One button (X on Xbox 360, square on PlayStation 3) shoots, but there’s more to it than that. You’ll need to release at the top of the shot for best accuracy, of course, and you can easily lean in or fade away while shooting as before, but there’s some added subtlety. Moving the left stick as you release the shot (as opposed to during the shot when you’re trying a fade-away, for example) will attempt a bank shot, which makes a huge difference in the post game. What’s impressive is that you’ll probably start using it without realizing it; the epitome of an excellent command scheme.

On defense, the commands haven’t changed, but the players have gotten smarter. While your “help” defense still isn’t as helpful as you’d hope - if your man beats you off the dribble or pump-fakes you, don’t expect the defense to collapse on the lane - it’s improved, and a slider tweak here and there can do wonders if it’s driving you crazy. The “defensive assist” button is extremely helpful without playing the game for you - it’ll simply square your player up between his man and the basket, and then you’ll have to do the rest - and it helps keep your computer-controlled defensive teammates from getting confused when you lose your man and breaking down.

The vastly improved gameplay is augmented by a silky-smooth animation system that breathes life into the game. The players jostle for position with heft and force and collisions are frequent, although too few fouls are probably called by default, given the level of contact. Oddly, the AI players tend to be far more successful on hitting shots when there’s contact than the human player, and they’ll also dominate on the offensive glass while the human-controlled player will rarely grab any boards there. There are rare times when your players get caught in certain animations, but they’re few and far between. More problematic is the interaction with the court’s boundaries; players will step out of bounds far too often and occasionally even receive inbound passes while standing out of bounds. If a patch is forthcoming, hopefully this issue is number one on the to-do list.

While some AI concerns manifest themselves after a time, other wonders reveal themselves. Whether it’s the game’s Dynamic DNA system that breaks down player tendencies, some clever and diligent programming or (most likely) a combination of the two, every team plays somewhat differently, and much like you’d expect them to. Play against the Denver Nuggets or Golden State Warriors and expect to run and gun all game long, but play the Orlando Magic and watch them feed the ball to star center Dwight Howard in the methodical half-court offense, and then perhaps watch him kick it back out for the open three-pointer. If you’re playing against a superstar like the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, the Cavaliers’ LeBron James or even a team’s best option like the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, expect to get a healthy dose of them early and often; those stars will be featured in the offense all game long. That means you’ll have to approach each game a little bit differently; when a sports game forces you to think as well as react, then you know you’ve found a good one.

Not content on improving only the on-court action, NBA Live 10’s presentation is finally on par with what’s been expected in sports games for some time, and occasionally even exceeds that with some nifty replays and overlays. The game’s commentators, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr, do a solid job with what’s been given them, but some new material would go a long way. The game’s audio package is superb; with hyped-up crowds that change based on the teams involved, whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs, and of course, what’s going on in the game itself. The small details from city to city stand out as well, whether it’s certain players’ pre-game routines or specific audio cues that let you know that the game’s happening in Detroit instead of Los Angeles, and that can go a long way towards keeping any sports game fresh.

While the game’s Dynasty mode hasn’t really changed, a new Dynamic Season mode will allow you to play along with the real NBA season; it’s limited in scope, but it’s an interesting concept that should appeal to the “what-if” types out there. Every team but your own will simply accumulate the same win-loss records, statistics, trades and injuries that happen in real life. With your team, your role will be to change history… daily. This, along with the Dynamic DNA feature, which provides daily roster updates, needs to be activated with a code included on a card packed into the game’s box. If you lose it, or otherwise don’t have that code, there’s a charge to access that service for the season. The corporatespeak surrounding this decision says the card’s to “highlight” their feature, but let’s be honest here - it’s obviously meant purely as a hindrance to used game sales and seems overly punitive to gamers that already have to pay for Xbox Live to access the Dynamic DNA information. It’s an unfortunate double-dip for customers that, at this point, deserve to have their patience in NBA Live rewarded instead of questioned.

Fortunately, the online feature worked very well last year, and although the NBA season hasn’t started yet, there’s little reason to expect that it won’t work well again this time around. NBA Live 10’s new online mode, Live Run (technically, it’s Adidas Live Run, and it’s plastered with that company’s graphics) is terrific fun, with a few caveats. The concept is simple: take 10 human players, split them up into two five-man teams, everybody pick their favorite NBA player at each position and play to 21. It runs very smoothly and plays great. The problem is finding enough quality players. In the pre-release “Community Live Run”, I played quite a few games and usually got stuck at center, where I was often the only player attempting sound defense. Many others were just mashing the steal button and leaving me to contend with players flying in for dunks. On offense, I’d try to set picks to help my teammates, only to have another gamer tell me to stop it over the headset. Then the rest of our team would stand around, watching this fellow try all the dribble moves he could find until the clock ticked down and he weakly attempted an easily blocked lay-up. In other words, expect the basketball equivalent of this. If that was happening in the Community games, I shudder to think what horrors might lurk in those open lobbies. But it’s what you make of it - Live Run’s a terrific idea that works well, and in the right hands, it’s a delightful way to play.

Top to bottom, the improvement in this series in a single year is hard to believe; it’s far more of an evolutionary leap than it is a simple renovation. For the past few years, NBA Live was worse than bad - it was irrelevant. That’s all changed. Like a perennial lottery team that’s finally reached the playoffs, the turnaround’s complete. NBA Live is finally, unquestionably back. We hadn’t realized just how much we missed it.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2: ReviewShawn Drotar

Posted on October 7th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Reviews, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Comic-book sequel doesn’t break new ground, but with friends, it’s a action-packed romp

When the original Marvel: Ultimate Alliance arrived on the scene nearly three years ago, it was a breath of fresh air; a four-player cooperative game that was reminiscent of old quarter-eaters like Gauntlet, with some puzzle-solving and a heaping helping of comic-book fan service thrown in.

The game was a resounding success, both commercially and critically, and a sequel was inevitable. But for the sequel, developer Raven Software has been replaced by Vicarious Visions, and while the new team clearly went with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, the game’s advances are a bit underwhelming given the three-year gap, and as a result, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 doesn’t provide as fresh an experience as many had hoped.

Nevertheless, for fans of the original, comic-book fans, or co-op gamers, the latest foray into the rich Marvel universe still provides plenty of fun, even if it feels a bit too familiar at times.

Borrowing heavily from “Secret Wars” and “Civil War”, two of Marvel’s most successful cross-title storylines in the last few years, our intrepid heroes find themselves embroiled in international politics, citywide destruction and a new law that forces them to reveal their secret identities. The story adds a little flavor to the proceedings in general - namely, later in the game, when certain characters will become unavailable depending on whether you’re pro- or anti-superhero registration - but it exists mainly to lead you and your team through waves and waves and robot soldiers and bad guys galore.

This isn’t a bad thing, because Ultimate Alliance 2 is all about taking it to the villains with your arsenal of powers, and combining them with your teammates. In other words, you’re out to kick butt, take names and look good doing it. The game’s set up to let you fulfill those superhero fantasies with aplomb.

From a graphics standpoint, Ultimate Alliance 2 is a step up from its predecessor, with more detail and a steadier frame rate than before. That’s important, because besides you and your three teammates, there may be a dozen other characters on the screen at the same time, complete with explosions and lighting effects from super-powers, among many other things all happening at once. There’s quite a bit of detail in the character models and in the environment, and they don’t seem as repetitive as they often did in the first game.

As the four-person superhero team of your choosing fights their way through each level, they’ll earn experience points which will allow them to advance their character and improve their powers. Initially, this will only improve the limited number of powers that each character starts with, but as time goes on, more powers can be unlocked and your superheroes will be well on their way to becoming an unstoppable force. Team bonuses are also earned, which can be equipped in slots, and then will affect the entire group, granting them all bonuses, no matter which heroes are part of your party at the time.

In this way, Ultimate Alliance 2 has a role-playing element, and you’ll decide which characters to advance and how to advance them. New costumes can be unlocked, but unlike in the first game, they don’t convey any particular bonuses, which is something of a disappointment, as there’s little reason to use them. As an interesting wrinkle, however, some of the 24 characters available are normally thought of as villains, but due to the storyline, which has our anti-registration heroes going underground, these characters will side with the heroes for the duration of this game.

The core gameplay remains the same, however: bashing everything that moves.

By utilizing a straightforward command scheme, brawling is a breeze and the simple trigger button modifier makes utilizing each of your four superpowers equally so. You’ll often find yourself inundated by enemies, so learn how to use the block button and remember to heal your teammates before their health gets too low. But when you find yourself surrounded, it’s an opportunity to use the game’s newest mechanic: Fusion powers.

These Fusion powers are the key to success in Ultimate Alliance 2, and unleashing them upon your enemies is the most fun part of the game. The perfect expression of teamwork between two characters, Fusion powers combine two heroes’ superpowers into into one devastating attack. Targeted Fusions will focus on one specific target, which is generally the most effective against end-of-level “bosses”. Guided Fusions let the teammates control where the damage is dealt, and usually allow them to move it around during the duration of the attack, giving them the opportunity to clear out many enemies at once. Clearing Fusions are the equivalent of “smart bombs”, attacks that radiate from the center outward, flinging enemies away from the heroes. Every pair of heroes will combine for a different kind of Fusion attack, and discovering which ones are the most effective for you is a great deal of fun. Watching Captain America deflect Iron Man’s energy blasts into the bad guys or watching Spider-Man twirl Wolverine around and around with his webbing is enough to put a smile on any comic-book fan’s face.

The more effectively you use your Fusion powers, the more you will be rewarded with experience and healing tokens that can bring your unlucky friends back into the fight. Playing as a single player, the Fusion powers are fun, but when you’re playing as a cooperative four-player team, the Fusion powers really feel like they reward you for playing together, which is a big part of the game’s appeal.

There are a few stumbles here and there. Loading times are surprisingly long, even where you wouldn’t expect them to be, the voice acting is hit and miss, and the interactive cutscenes are really clunky, although the aggressive/diplomatic/defensive response system is interesting enough. But there’s a lot to like here, especially for Marvel fans. Each character has in-game achievements to strive for (though they don’t necessarily correspond with Xbox 360 Achievements or PlayStation 3 Trophies), and there’s a decent amount of replay-ability here, especially if you want to unlock everything.

Ultimate Alliance 2 doesn’t break much new ground - in fact, besides the enjoyable Fusion mechanic, it’s essentially the same game as its predecessor - but it looks better, brings a more interesting story to bear, and still provides a ton of co-op fun for four players, both online and off. ‘Nuff said.

Beware the Zombie Apocalypse… in a good wayShawn Drotar

Posted on October 1st, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Reviews, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Zombies are everywhere, it seems. For the last few years, the zombie craze has inundated seemingly all forms of entertainment - but in gaming, they’re a natural fit. After all, waves upon waves of mindless monsters have become a staple in arcade gaming almost since its inception, and Konami’s downloadable entry into that genre, Zombie Apocalypse, is no exception.

What is exceptional, however, is how well put-together and surprisingly fun it is.

Selling for $10 on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade (where it’s listed for 800 Microsoft Points), the game features noticeably better-than-average graphics for an arcade title, especially one with this much action. With some terrific lighting effects and a joyously bright color palette, Zombie Apocalypse is inviting, despite its decidedly M-rated, ├╝ber-violent gameplay.

Admittedly, this isn’t rocket science here, and that’s part of its charm. You’ll take one of four characters and get dropped into a ravaged wasteland with a plethora of zombies wanting to feast upon your oh-so-delicious (to zombies, at least) brain, and you’ll attempt to fight them off to pass the level. In true arcade fashion, you’ll have three lives to start with and can earn extras by passing certain point thresholds. With your default rifle, you can do plenty of damage, but more weapons will appear in the environment. If you can get to them, you’ll be able to wreak more havoc, and have more fun, wiping out the zombie hordes. You’ll also have a chainsaw, which can be used to cut a swath through a pack of zombies if necessary. The more zombies you eliminate in a row, the higher your multiplier goes up and the more quickly you’ll earn points. A second attack with the chainsaw is more showy, and will greatly boost your multiplier, but try it with more than a handful of the scuffling monstrosities on screen and you’ll be in big trouble - it takes a while to pull off.

Survivors keep things interesting; these blue-suited businesswomen will run into the level, and you’ll need to run over and touch them to drop a signal flare. Then, if you can protect them for long enough, they’ll be rescued by a helicopter, which will give you a bunch of bonus points and drop a dynamite-laden teddy bear somewhere nearby that you’ll want to quickly retrieve. The zombies love the cuddly pink teddy bear, so if you throw it across the level, they’ll chase it, only to have it explode seconds later, helping you immensely. If you don’t save the businesswoman, however, she’ll eventually become a zombie herself, and a particularly nasty one at that, so being a Good Samaritan isn’t optional if you intend on playing for very long.

The level design is rather creative; it’s not only lit well and provides an almost Pac-Man-like maze at times for you to shake your pursuers loose in, but it’s also interactive. If you’re in a junkyard, there’s a car crusher that goes off every few seconds. Lure a few zombies in there and - smoosh - your work’s done for you. An airport level has a jet engine running near the top of the screen, a street level has burning trash cans that explode if you blast them - you get the picture. Discovering how to use the level to your advantage is not only good strategy, but it’s a lot of fun to boot.

Speaking of fun, the game allows four players to team up and play simultaneously, both offline and online, which ramps up the enjoyment exponentially. Thankfully, you can’t hurt your teammates, which is a good thing given the game’s frenetic nature and the limited space of each level, and having buddies to help you out in a pinch gives the entire team a far better chance for success. While the game’s still entertaining while playing solo, playing with friends takes the game to another level entirely.

Zombie Apocalypse isn’t perfect; in fact, it gets a little lazy - and silly - about halfway through, when the zombies become “radioactive”. Essentially, this means they glow green and are twice as hard to wipe out, and it’s pretty cheap. But until that point - and even after it, if you don’t mind the decidedly artificial difficulty increase - it’s a really enjoyable romp. It’ll be pleasantly familiar to anyone who’s let games like Smash TV and Robotron 2084 inhale rolls of their quarters at the arcades over the years, and amazingly, there’s still some gold left to be mined here.

One of the challenges that faces many downloadable games today is simply getting noticed in the first place, and I admit that I hadn’t given this game much thought until I tried the demo and realized that it was worth more than just a passing glance. No, it doesn’t re-write arcade gaming as we know it, but as the calendar turns to October, what’s wrong with a spooky little zombie-blaster that looks good, plays beautifully and provides an awful lot of fun with friends for $10? It may not fill you up, but like a candy bar, it tastes good anyway. It’s no trick; Zombie Apocalypse is a tasty little Halloween treat.

ScattershotsShawn Drotar

Posted on September 28th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

It’s the last Monday of September, as summer draws to a close. But while the temperature’s starting to drop, the gaming season’s starting to heat up.

  • After cutting prices for the PS3, Sony Computer Entertainment of America CEO Jack Tretton claims not only success, but threatens shortages… again. “We are up about 300 percent over where we were pre-price drop. We are up significantly versus last year. In a very difficult economy, I couldn’t be more optimistic about our fortunes for the rest of the year and for the future,” Tretton told Reuters. “If things continue at this pace, it is conceivable that there will be product shortages.” I’ll believe it when I see it, as threatening shortages didn’t work last time… as a matter of fact, he still owes me $4,800.
  • Halo 3: ODST is sure to sell well, but I’ve decided that I’m off the wagon. I loved the original and liked the second, but by the third, the whole mythology of the series became so dense, overwhelming and pretentious that much of the free-wheeling joy of the series had been sucked out the window. Add that to an online user base that makes playing with the headset off almost mandatory unless you’re with friends, and playing Halo began to feel more like work than recreation. I haven’t given up on the groundbreaking series entirely, and I suspect that next year’s Reach will be a very different story, but as for ODST, I won’t be spending $60 on what’s essentially a glorified expansion pack. Commence your angry e-mailing; I can take it.
  • Guitar Hero 5’s been taking its lumps in the press thanks to the overblown Kurt Cobain thing. Tacky? Sure, but no more so than using Johnny Cash or Jimi Hendrix in the same way, but no one’s whining about that because gamers are apparently too young to care… Nevertheless, the game’s very solid and deserves attention, and its October DLC is no exception. Guitar Hero’s a guilty pleasure anyway, so why not cheese it up with a three-pack of Velveeta-smooth Billy Squier? Go nuts with “The Stroke” and “Everybody Wants You”, but please, don’t dance like Billynobody wants that.
  • If you haven’t heard, EA Sports is jumping into the ball pit that is the mixed-martial arts world, attempting to compete with THQ’s game-of-the-year candidate UFC Undisputed. From this video from MMA fan site AllElbows.com, it looks like the meeting with some of the fighters went… well?

It’s *om*astic!Shawn Drotar

Posted on September 25th, 2009 in Opinion by Shawn Drotar

My apologies for the week of… mostly no posts.

My internet provider, which rhymes with “bombast”, seems hell-bent on doing maintenance on their network nearby. Daily.

So I’m posting this from my iPhone, which is actually pretty cool - but not so conductive for long-form writing.

I’ll make it up to you next week, if I have to go down there to the network node and get the hamsters to run faster on their wheels myself.

ScattershotsShawn Drotar

Posted on September 21st, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Monday, Monday… it’s cold, rainy and miserable in Colorado today. In other words - a nice day for videogames!

  • Activision, publisher of Guitar Hero 5 and the upcoming DJ Hero and Guitar Hero: Van Halen, doesn’t believe that the music game industry is oversaturated. In an appearance on CNBC (video at Kotaku), Guitar Hero honcho Daniel Rosensweig posited that “80 percent” of console-owning households don’t have a music/rhythm game yet, leaving the market wide open. While he may be right - and it’s worth pointing out that the Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love kerfuffle notwithstanding, Guitar Hero 5 is a very solid entry in the series - concern isn’t surrounding the oversaturation of the music game genre, it’s the oversaturation of Guitar Hero that’s become a very real problem. Look, Activision is giving away - for free - the yet-to-be-released Van Halen with purchases of Guitar Hero 5 this month. This generally means two things: 1) They know the game isn’t good, or 2) they know the game isn’t going to sell. Activision is in clear and present danger of strangling their golden goose; not because the games are of poor quality - they aren’t; as a matter of fact, they’re getting better - but simply due to consumer fatigue. Sometimes, less is more.
  • While we’re on Activision, their upcoming racer Blur, which looks to be a welcome blend of Project Gotham Racing and Mario Kart - and also looks like it’ll be riotous fun online - is being pushed back to 2010, specifically so that online multiplayer element can be further refined. While it’s too bad we won’t be playing Blur until next year, there are a pair of top-notch racers that recently released (Dirt 2 and Need For Speed: Shift) and next month, Forza Motorsport 3’s expected to knock our collective socks off. So if Blur needs the time to get their unique spin on the genre right, so be it. Don’t cry for Activision either - in November, they have a little title that might help cover for Blur’s absence.
  • On Tuesday, the latest title in the Halo saga lands on store shelves, as Halo 3: ODST arrives on the scene. This “expansion-plus” title revolves around a character other than the iconic Master Chief for the first time in a Halo game and includes some game modes new to the series. If, like me, you’re not sure it’s worth $60… is it worth $40? Because, essentially, that’s what it’ll cost you at Toys R Us if you pick it up tomorrow - the retailer is offering a $20 gift card and a special Halo ODST action figure with purchase.
  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 made waves when it was discovered - no wait, “discovered” is the wrong term - when the game’s development and PR teams flaunted the fact that the digital brawler’s female characters’ breasts could be controlled by moving the Sixaxis controller on the PlayStation 3. Feel free to read that last sentence again, just in case you weren’t offended enough. Got it now? Because it gets worse. Apparently, this “feature” has become the main selling point of the game, witnessed by this YouTube video by user “TECMOPRTeam”. Now I know things are very different in Japan from a sexual-culture standpoint, but I still don’t really know what to say here, save this: It’s probably the single-most juvenile, ludicrous thing I’ve ever seen in this industry, and that’s saying a lot. I don’t offend easily, but as a man, I’m insulted by the assertion that we’re all so lascivious that we’d be taken in by such ridiculous iconography. I can’t even imagine what women would think - are there any that work at Tecmo? It’s just sad. Watch below, and realize that this is why this medium still can’t be taken seriously as an art form.

5WGaming/The Sports Game Guy Podcast: September 18, 2009Shawn Drotar

Posted on September 18th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Opinion, Nintendo DS, Podcast by Shawn Drotar

Scribblenauts, one of my new favorite titles for the Nintendo DS, is definitely a good thing for the industry, and Damon brings one of his new favorites into the discussion… a bean bag. No, seriously. A bean bag.

We wrap up with a brief discussion of the NBA Live 10 demo and its new, contextual post-up controls and admit to a mix of trepidation and excitement surrounding the game’s retail release in October.

The Ides of SeptemberShawn Drotar

Posted on September 15th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, PC Gaming, Playstation 3, News, Opinion, Wii, Nintendo DS by Shawn Drotar

Julius Caesar regretted the Ides of March, albeit briefly. Of course, the famed Roman emperor was murdered on the 15th of March (the middle, or Ides) in 44 BC. One of most famous people in history, Caesar’s likeness was emblazoned upon coins through Rome, a civilization renowned for its love of “bread and circuses”; entertainment for its own sake, often violent, but definitely… well, mainstream.

2,053 years and six months later, you’ll need a lot of coin to enjoy today’s mainstream entertainment. So on the Ides of September, your wallet might regret today - not as much as Caesar did his fateful day of course, but perhaps for a bit longer. In a month that’s already seen a plethora of A-list titles hit store shelves, today deserves special notice. So prepare to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

Keep in mind, all these titles release today - hope you saved up…

PC

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC) - A game of the year candidate on everyone’s list thus far; now PC gamers get in on the action. Top-notch voice acting and clever gameplay puts developer Rocksteady on the map.
  • Resident Evil 5 (PC) - Add this to Batman for extra PC game creepiness. More zombies, more controversy - but the same amount of cheesy dialogue.
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla (PC): One of the sleeper console hits of the year. To quote Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger in Total Recall, “Get your ass to Mars!”
  • Time of Shadows (PC) - The latest add-on to the role-playing game Dawn of Magic. I don’t play it, but if you do, I suspect you knew this was coming out today already… and you probably did save up.

CONSOLE

  • Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (Multi) - The original was one of the most fun four-player brawlers since Gauntlet, and the sequel looks like more mindless fun.
  • Need for Speed: Shift (Multi) - This franchise has been in need of an overhaul for years, and it looks like it may have finally gotten a good one, complete with startlingly good graphics.
  • NHL 10 (Multi) - The best hockey game on the planet is back.
  • NHL 2K10 (Multi) - Once the hockey king, and now playing catch-up, but there’s a lot to recommend this game, as well, including some clever online integration.
  • Toy Story Mania (Wii) - A new Disney title for the family; includes 3-D glasses for certain levels.
  • Heroes Over Europe (Multi) - Another World War II aerial dogfighting game. The genre fascinates me - shame there hasn’t been a game that’s been good enough to hold my attention yet.
  • Wet (Multi) - If Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made a video game, it might look a bit like this. The game’s demo was technically underwhelming, however.

NINTENDO DS

  • Scribblenauts (DS) - A questionable control scheme may hamper the gameplay, but the game’s creativity is not in question.
  • Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS) - It doesn’t matter what I say here. It says Mario on the cover - people will buy it, even if it’s about a dinosaur’s colonoscopy. Which it basically is.

That’s about $650 worth of gaming goodness - today. However, if you’re feeling a bit thrifty, Uncharted 2’s public demo is scheduled to go online today on the PlayStation 3. As someone who participated - thoroughly participated - in the closed beta, I can only say that it is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

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