Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Playstation 3 - One Year Later

Last year, I finally jumped into this generation of consoles by purchasing a PS3 for me and my son. I have played a LOT of video games this year. Many of them were purchased second hand, a few were purchased off of the Playstation Network, and a few were bought at full retail, with one of them even being preordered.

To put it mildly, I like my PS3. And not just for games. I'm also enjoying the Hell out of using it as a Blu-Ray player and for streaming Netflix. Overall, I am very, very pleased with my purchase, but I thought I'd make a blog post giving my thoughts on every one of the games I spent any real amount of time playing this year, in no particular order:

Marvel Super Hero Squad Infinity Gauntlet - Purchased for my son, I haven't played this nearly as much as I intended to, but I was pumped that they included Nova. Based off the cartoon of the same name, it's a kid-friendly take on the Marvel Universe, with gameplay serving as a beat-em up in which you control two heroes in each level.

WHAT WORKS: Cute writing, not on par with the TV show, but not bad. NOVA makes it into the game, which is just fantastic for me, and then they added Captain America, Bucky and Red Skull DLC, making it even better.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Controls and animation are kind of clunky. Probably too "kiddy" if you're not into the whole Super Hero Squad thing.

PROTOTYPE - An open world game in which you play an escaped amnesiac named Alex Mercer who has all kinds of freaky powers, but is also linked to a zombie-ish outbreak in the city. No matter how bad the bad guys are, Mercer never rises above the level of anti-hero, as he regularly consumes people. Still haven't finished this game. Probably should have played it before I played - and beat - inFAMOUS.

WHAT WORKS: The powers system works pretty well in game play, and it's fun for crazy, over the top action. There's a lot to be said for some of the cooler stealth powers as well, like consuming and shapeshifting into a military commander and calling down an airstrike on the bad guys before they realize they are bombing their own people.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The game seems to sacrifice a lot of character development and personality for swearing and blood. The basic premise is real similar to inFAMOUS, which I found to be superior in just about every way.

inFAMOUS - Similar to Prototype (in the broadest terms), inFAMOUS is an open world game in which you are given superpowers (electricity based), and you can determine whether you will save the world or destroy it. The powers will even develop somewhat uniquely depending on your path, good or evil. Beat this one on the Good playthrough, but I have only begun the evil playthrough. After you beat the game, you can continue playing in order to unlock additional power-ups and find Dead Drops which lay out the game's backstory.

WHAT WORKS: I loved the personalities in the game, especially Cole McGrath (your character) and his partner Zeke. The open world was quite fun, with optional sidequests depending on your path (Good or Evil). The urban exploration really helped the world come alive, using a mix of parkour and static electricity to scale buildings and the like.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some of the powers were wonky to use. A few of the sidequests got tedious, like some of the spying missions, in which you would have to track a person without being seen. I also got COMPLETELY mistaken on one sidequest due to the onscreen directions and wound up killing cops. Sucked, seeing as I was doing a Good playthrough.

Heavy Rain - Greatest Hits - Heavy Rain is as much interactive movie as it is a video game. It's a mystery plot in which you play four characters, all intertwined in a series of kidnappings and murders. The game eschews traditional control schemes, instead providing context sensitive controls for each scene. The four characters, a desperate father, an insomniac photojournalist, an odd FBI Agent from Five Minutes In The Future and a driven, hard-boiled PI, are all well developed and interesting. The game also has an interesting caveat: There is no guarantee that any of your characters will make it out alive. In fact, only two of them made it out of my game alive. I can't say the game was fun, was an exhausting experience...but one I'm glad I went on.

WHAT WORKS: No other game has provided me with more tension than this one. Knowing that one wrong move could impact the story made every action count, and the story hit me with multiple gutpunches that stay with me to this day. The innovative control scheme became a subject of some criticism, but I thought it made the game truly come alive in the high stress situations.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The voice actors were all French, trying to sound American. Only one of them managed to really pull it off (The PI), but the stilted tone of the FBI Agent actually worked, helping sell how odd and off-putting he is. It's definitely not for all audiences, and CERTAINLY not for children. Like I said, I can't say it was FUN...but it was a gripping, emotionally exhausting experience.

God of War: Collection - I had tried to play God of War back on the PS2 and didn't care for it. My PS3 came bundled with the God of War Collection (parts 1 and 2) and God of War III, so I gave it another shot, and I'm glad I did. God of War is an alternate take on Greek Mythology, bordering at points on making Hercules the Legendary Journeys seem mythologically accurate (if that's a real thing). In the first game, Kratos is waging war on Ares, ultimately killing him and becoming the new God of War. The second game is Kratos being betrayed by Zeus and being saved by the Titans to reverse his fate. Originally released on the Playstation 2, the Collection has been given an HD update. The gameplay itself has been ripped off and raped by multiple action games since.

WHAT WORKS: This series does Insane Over The Top Action Gameplay better than any of its imitators. As long as you're not a Greek Myth purist, the callouts to Greek Myth are pretty awesome, as they managed to squeeze a TON of references in across the series. And everything...EVERYTHING...feels absolutely epic.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Your mileage may vary, but some criticize Kratos for being one dimensional. Personally, I thought it gave him a certain charm. Also, greek myth purists will have their heads explode with this game. Finally, as nice as the gameplay looks, the cutscenes look like CRAP in comparison.

God of War III - The epic conclusion to the series, as Kratos joins forces with the Titans to go after Zeus and the remaining Gods. This was the first (and only, thus far) God of War game made specifically for the PS3 and it shows. The opening cutscene went right into gameplay and it was so seamless that it took me by complete surprise. The series had built to an epic conclusion and they completely fulfilled the promise in a disturbing, but awesome, collision between Kratos and Zeus.

WHAT WORKS: Absolutely gorgeous game. A well delivered pay-off to a well-built story. The God of War series may not be incredibly DEEP, but it is certainly appropriately epic.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not a ton of complaints. Really, my biggest complaint is going to be if they make a fourth game needlessly.

Assassin's Creed - A well-loved series taking place in two time periods: The modern times, in which Desmond Miles is being experimented on in a VR type project, and the distant past, where his ancestor Altair serves as an Assassin. Frankly, not a fan. One of the first games I bought for the PS3 and I was disappointed.

WHAT WORKS: The parkour was cool, but other games have done it better since. The eagle eye/diving from high points was also cool...but that's all I got.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: For one, it felt like every time I was getting going as Altair, I was snapped back into playing Desmond, or watching long cut scene after long cut scene, instead of - you know - PLAYING THE GAME. Ultimately, Assassin's Creed and I did not click, and though I only paid $10 for it, I feel I paid too much.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition - Based off of the Wolverine movie, the Wolverine video game slipped under a lot of noses because a) people tended to hate the film and b) people tend to hate movie video games. Sad, because this is actually quite good. Lots of unlockable, historical Wolverine costumes are available, if you hate the movie look, and it doesn't follow the movie exactly, providing some nice fights with Sabretooth, the Blob and even Sentinels. Still haven't quite finished this one yet, with about an Act to go, I believe.

WHAT WORKS: This Wolverine pulls no punches. The movie may not have been R-Rated, but the game is rated M for Mature, and rightfully so, as Wolverine hacks, slashes, decapitates and disembowels his way through legions of baddies. Wolverine has never felt more like Wolverine in a video game.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: It's still the movie plot (with added backstory), which isn't the BEST...though it is better executed than in the film. Pretty sure the Sentinel boss fight has a glitch to it that can make it unwinnable, but reloading your game save seems to fix it.

Red Dead Redemption - I used to think Red Dead Revolver was as close to a great western game as I was ever going to see. I was shocked, and pleased, to discover that this topped that game in every way. The story of John Marston is an homage to westerns from across the spectrum, as he is enlisted by the government to bring his former gang to justice. Along the way, Marston encounters one of the best supporting casts I've ever seen in a video game as he is yanked around all over the map by people using him for their own purposes. I saw the ending coming, but it didn't make it any less powerful.

WHAT WORKS: The best Western experience in a video game. Period. Bar none. An amazing, bittersweet story of a man trying to be rid of his past, providing a narrative worthy of many of the best western films. The gameplay has everything from shootouts to duels to playing horseshoes to poker. I've also had quite a bit of fun with the online multiplayer, playing with a couple of buddies of mine.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I never got the hang of duels in this game like I did Red Dead Revolver.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare - Taking one of the most powerful stories I've played in a video game, and turning it into a campy, zombie infested b-movie experience should have been horrible...instead, it became new levels of awesome. While I prefer the original narrative to this one - if I had to pick one, I mean - this was a stroke of genius. Taking minor characters from the original story and giving them bizarre, over the top twists, Undead Nightmare is both hilarious and creepy...and surprisingly touching at times.

WHAT WORKS: Well, I've always liked the idea of undead cowboys, and as amazing and emotional as Red Dead Redemption's story was, it's nice to see that they didn't take themselves too seriously.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Accidentally shooting someone in town and having the whole town turn on you violently. Eesh.

Darksiders - An action game borrowing more than a little from God of War, Darksiders has an interesting concept: War, Horseman of the Apocalypse, is summoned forth and brings about the End Times. Then he finds out after the fact that he was tricked into acting before he was supposed to, and is tasked to shake apart Heaven and Earth until he finds the truth, battling Angels and Demons along the way. The gameplay doesn't really live up to the concept.

WHAT WORKS: Cool concepts, cool designs. That's kinda it.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The graphics themselves already feel dated, and the gameplay kinda does as well. It LOOKS cool...until you actually start playing.

Lost: Via Domus - Despite all the warnings, I still bought LOST: Via Domus because I'm a hardcore LOST guy. You play a new character, who was on Oceanic 815, and interact with a number of the LOST characters, complete with Flashbacks. Try as I might, I could not get into it, and am still only about three episodes into it (though I think that means I'm halfway there). I wanted to like it so much...

WHAT WORKS: It's not HORRIBLE...I just kept getting better games that kept me from going back to it.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The game assumes you have working knowledge of the show. If you don't, you probably need not apply. I HAD working knowledge of the show and I still couldn't get into the game. Also, some of the voice acting is disturbingly off the mark.

Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition - I was a pretty huge fan of Bioware going into this, due to Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. What I found was my favorite video game RPG. You have six different origins, three different character classes and two different sexes to choose from, each factor influencing the gameplay. My sole playthrough thus far was as a Dalish Elf Male Warrior. The game ditched the Morality System that had become more and more common in RPGs, replacing it instead with an Approval system, in which you tried to balance the respect and approval of your party members. The Ultimate Edition includes all of the DLC, and I've played about half of it, still needing to complete Awakenings, Golems of Amgarrak and Witch Hunt.

WHAT WORKS: My favorite set of party members in an RPG, ever. I vastly prefer the balancing approval over an alignment system. The game even managed to have a *plot relevant* sex scene!

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I DID lose a couple of my cool DLC items when I transferred my character to Awakenings...=(

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions - A surprisingly good Spider-Man game, taking place in four realities with four Spider-Men: Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Man 2099. A mystical fragment stolen by Mysterio is shattered and disperses through time, leading to the Spider-Men each having to deal with a trio of their foes that have gained control of the artifacts, altering each of them in various ways. Each one plays somewhat differently, with Spider-Man Noir standing out the most (his missions are almost entirely stealth based). Each world also has a noticeable visual style, helping them stand out further. Still not quite to the end game on this one.

WHAT WORKS: Interesting selection of foes. Very witty writing, with the Deadpool level standing out in particular. Good gameplay that feels evocative of Spider-Man far more often than not. The Spider-Man Noir levels particularly stand out.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Deadpool level has this horrible, horrible sequence involving a tidal wave that sorely tempted me to put the game down and never look back. A few frustrating oddities like this pop up here and there, but this is by far the worst.

NCAA Football 09 - Got this one dirt cheap after I got swept back up into the college football thing this year due to OSU's banner year. Without playing a football game in ages, I was able to get into the groove after a few games, and am now kicking much butt.

WHAT WORKS: Being able to alter the difficulty and the AI sliders in the middle of games, adjusting difficulty up and down as needed or preferred on a whim. Dynasty mode is pretty fantastic as you can control anywhere from 1 to 12 teams! I control three of them (OU, OSU and TU), because I am a fan of Oklahoma football more than I am any one school.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: It's hard to find the sweet spot at times between too difficult and too easy. I know it's there...just still playing with the AI sliders to figure it out. The team management stuff can get to be overwhelming, but thankfully the computer can do a decent job of simulating that for you.

Batman Arkham Asylum: Game of the Year Greatest Hits - This used to be the best superhero game ever made. Arkham Asylum brought Batman alive in a way that no other game had before. The plot is simple: Joker breaks free and takes over the Asylum. This allows other villains their chances to act as well, with some (like Scarecrow) playing a larger role than others (like Zsaz). Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their animated roles as Batman and Joker, and do so splendidly.

WHAT WORKS: EVERYTHING. The voice acting, the way the game helps you become Batman, from combat to stealth to investigation. The dozens and dozens of easter eggs, including multiple, subtle hints at Arkham City. The realization at one point in the game when you discover that Batman can leave at any time, he just refuses to. OH...and BATMAN TRICKS YOU. The sideplot with Riddler is also amazing, as he slips into desperation and insanity while Batman is solving his riddles.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The 3D (which is optional) gives me headaches. The challenge maps are kind of repetitive.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 - The best wrestling game I have played since I owned an N64. Smackdown vs Raw 2011 finally got the groundwork laid, piece by piece over the years, incorporating new weapon physics, new Royal Rumble mechanics, new Ladder match mechanics, improved tag team AI and the crown jewel: Universe mode, which allows you to play the entire roster, throughout the WWE year, which I frankly think is awesome. The game also includes a deep roster, from undercard guys to the main event, with a few Legends sprinkled in. I ordered this game on Christmas Eve last year, and was still playing it almost a year later.

WHAT WORKS: Universe very much. Also, you can download created wrestlers that obsessive people have slaved over, instead of having to make them yourself.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: You can't upload Storylines if you have edited the guys in any way. Road to WrestleMania kinda sucks. No tournaments or Beat the Clock Challenge.

WWE '12 - The follow-up to Smackdown vs Raw 2011 added a number of nice, new features...but also stumbled in a lot of ways. THQ launched their own online servers, which are very unstable, even for guys like me who only want to download wrestlers. The game is also pretty glitchy, though a patch is supposedly being worked on for that. On the plus side, Universe mode is a lot more customizable, even adding in storylines to flow from show to show.

WHAT WORKS: A lot of the stuff from 2011 is still there, and the extra customization options for Universe are very nice. Still a solid engine that is fun to play. You can now pick your wrestler AFTER Universe cut scenes before matches, letting pre-match actions help you decide who you want to control.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: If you're like me and don't like using Legends in your Universe, the roster feels a lot more shallow this year, and the DLC releases are pretty lackluster. Just about every storyline in Universe mode turns SOMEBODY...which gets entirely too chaotic after a while.

Captain America: Super Soldier - Completely overlooked due to people being gunshy about movie tie-ins, the Captain America game was a very pleasant surprise this summer. Borrowing pretty heavily from Arkham Asylum, the game provides an authentic Captain America experience that largely fits into the movie continuity after he gets the iconic shield, but before the climax. The story was written by Christos Gage, one of the most underrated writers in comics. Easily the most underrated superhero game available this generation.

WHAT WORKS: Chris Evans reprises his role as Captain America, Christos Gage delivers a good, solid story and ripping off Arkham Asylum is not the worst thing you can do for a Captain America game. And it's usually available dirt cheap because everyone overlooked it.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The biggest disappointment is that it takes forever to unlock the classic Captain America costume, and you can't replay the game with it, limiting its use to the final parts of the game and the Challenge maps.

Incredible Hulk - I wanted to like this, given what I fan I was of the Incredible Hulk movie...and the list of unlockables sounded cool...however, this game was just the prototype for Protoype, which didn't really impress me.

WHAT WORKS: Apparently, there are no Bruce Banner missions, thankfully.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The graphics look like last generation graphics and the gameplay just feels anemic compared to the last-gen Incredible Hulk Ultimate Destruction game.

inFAMOUS 2 - The follow-up to inFAMOUS had a lot to live up to, and it did two things right immediately: 1) It transplanted the setting to a New Orleans stand-in called New Marais, which provided a whole new feeling to the game (and rightfully so). 2) Unlike most games, Cole did NOT get his powers all stripped away, starting all over from scratch. Like the previous game, this one has a Good path and an Evil path, and I have completed the Good path. The inFAMOUS mythos gets explained a little more and you can even develop new powers based off of different elements, namely ice and fire.

WHAT WORKS: Sucker Punch took everything that made inFAMOUS work and stepped it up. In fact, with the photography side missions and the Tether power, to say nothing of the snappy writing, I REALLY want to see them make a Spider-Man game. The Good and Evil playthroughs also seem to be even more divergent in this game than the last one. Lastly, they provided tools for User Generated Missions to help add to replayability.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Again, not much. I call this one a must-buy for PS3 owners, as it's easily the best non-licensed superhero game that has been released thus far.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge - I picked this one up on a whim due to Gamestop not having inFAMOUS 2 when I went looking for it. It's a fun game (and one more I haven't beaten), I just would have waited for the price drop in retrospect. Basically, it's a Hack 'n' Slash game in which you switch back and forth between two characters, the human Caddoc and the elven E'lara. Each character is at least as developed as your average action game character, and I would have been downright giddy buying this game at the $15 Amazon is selling it for now. It does seem that a lot of folks thought they were getting an RPG, and judged the game harshly based on that assumption. Not as underrated as Captain America, but I would still call it underrated.

WHAT WORKS: I love the interaction between the two characters and the hack'n'slash is an enjoyable diversion. Switching between the two characters makes the gameplay stand out versus other action games.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: A lot of the weapons seem to repeat in loot drops during the game, and the Create-A-Quest feature (or whatever it's called), has kinda fallen short due to the lack of interest in the game.

Borderlands Game of the Year - The first person shooter I had bought in years, I was attracted by Borderlands' FPS/RPG hybrid qualities. Picking a character and leveling him up is quite fun. I chose the Hunter, and once I worked my Falcon up a bit, I was wreaking all kinds of havoc. Game of the Year includes all of the DLC, and I've completed the main story as well as The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned...but I've gotten frustrated on Mad Moxxi's Underdone Riot since I only play solo.

WHAT WORKS: The FPS/RPG mash-up works surprisingly well, keeping me engaged through the main plot. The absurd humor freshens up a lot of stuff that could easily be old hat otherwise.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The plot is entirely paper thin. You can EASILY forget about NPCs and the overall plot, because most of the time it just doesn't matter. Still, the carnage is cool enough that most of the time, you won't notice.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Limited Edition - The first Castlevania game I have bought...ever? I think I rented all the rest. Apparently, this isn't considered a "true" Castlevania game (it is a reboot, apparently), but man it's both a pretty game and it's fun. In fact, it helped inspire the "Horror of Trevala" setting I still hope to release for Savage Worlds someday. It's had some nice twists and turns, and great voice work (Patrick Stewart is the Narrator!), with fun gameplay and boss fights that feel epic (and somewhat inspired by God of War, in a good way). I actually did buy the Limited Edition, with art book and CD (and the music for this game is fantastic, so there's that).

WHAT WORKS: The music. Patrick Stewart. The swell upgrades for your character (with preview animations calling back to the original Castlevania). The game oozes atmosphere, whether you're racing through a sweltering jungle, battling a titan in the snow or fending off vampires in a dark castle.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Gabriel Belmont lacks personality, driven purely by his obsessive need to save his wife. The one-note protagonist works a bit better in God of War than it does here...although Gabriel is MUCH less of an anti-hero than Kratos is.

Batman: Arkham City - Remember how I said inFAMOUS 2 approved on inFAMOUS in just about every way? Arkham City takes Arkham Asylum to the extreme. An amazing Batman story (and don't be fooled by the trailers: This thing is all about Batman and Joker), with an even more epic side mission with Riddler, as well as the addition of playable Catwoman missions. After I beat the story mode, I had two side missions that had never even started! I beat Arkham City quickly...because I could not put it down.

WHAT WORKS: The Challenge Maps feel much funner this year, in part because you can also play as Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing (the latter two through DLC). After beating the story, I still had two side missions that hadn't STARTED and I STILL haven't stopped Riddler! Even the frikkin' Penguin got a bad-ass makeover for the Arkham version of the Batman mythos! The plot was full of twists and turns and a shocking ending.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The lack of voicework for Nightwing and Robin is disappointing, and there is an INCREDIBLY annoying section under a factory in which Batman has to use ice floats and grapple lines to get around. It gets old. Fast. year with the PS3. Yes, I've played a lot of games. That's not even getting into the PSN games, most of which disappointed me. Only Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Marvel Pinball and DC Universe Online got much play (and DCU Online got old FAST). Still...good investment, and I still have games that are out that I want to get!