Monday, May 31

Castles on Sand

All things considered, I had a great weekend. There were however, some bitter pills to swallow.

The demo for UFC Undisputed 2010 appears to have confirmed what I had suspected: This is a new coat of paint on a dilapidated house. Knock-outs appear to occur at random, with (what would normally be) killer blows rocking combatants only slightly and anti-climactic conclusions to all of the bouts I played through. Body blows are just as useless as they were last year. In one bout, I landed over 10 strong body kicks on my opponent with the strongest reaction involving them wincing in pain and Joe Rogan screaming "NICE BODY KICK!!!" The fighter wasn't winded long enough for me to follow up, and in the end I tapped out. The clinch system returns to many a WTF moment, and the ground game is equally as perplexing. I was not a fan of the 2009 iteration, nor am I a huge fan of the UFC (or any of its bastardised MMA cousins), but I was hoping for something a little more intuitive as a friend is an enthusiast, and I would like to be a competent observer of this full-contact fad (in broadcast and videogame formats).

The Split/Second demo offers up one race for consumption and it is a shame to see that Black Rock Studio couldn't make a definitive choice between kart racer and Burnout clone. Technically you don't have weapons, and you don't boost like in Burnout. What you have is the ability to activate Power Plays, which are (almost) unavoidable obstacles that will take out your opponents. You earn the ability to use Power Plays by getting air and drifting (no blue sparks). If you're in front of the pack, Power Plays are less than useless. In one race I was given the opportunity to change the track, which I did. Sure the control tower crumbling to the ground, obscuring the usual track was a visual spectacle, but I couldn't see how that provided any real benefit to me, or challenge to my opponents. As loyal reader 4Xscope had pointed out, Split/Second is only worth playing if you're coming from behind.

The only demo that didn't hurt to play was Rocket Knight. For those of you who haven't played the original, Rocket Knight chronicles the adventures of Sparkster, a possum with a jetpack! The visuals, while not as endearing as the Sega Mega Drive original, are still clean, cute and colourful. The action (best of all) is surpisingly faithful to the original, with plenty of slashing, rocket-dashing, and hanging upside-down by your tail from thin platforms. I won't follow through with a purchase (for now) because of the asking price. From all accounts, this is a 2-3 hour game that costs 1200 MSP/$19.95AUD. That to me, is slightly short of scandalous.

What games were you guys playing over the weekend? Hope it was a good one.

Friday, May 28

Wild Horses

Some things never change. I invited my brother to join in on a Free Roam play session, so I could explore Red Dead Redemption's multiplayer offering with a dependable contemporary. Our sibling rivalry was quickly rediscovered. Upon connecting to the session, he looked pretty smug, riding into the MacFarlane Ranch on his shiny mule. I couldn't stand it, so I did what any reasonable man would do: I plugged his awkward steed right in-between the eyes. As his mount collapsed to the ground, my brother's screams of anguish bellowed through our Skype call. Not content to leave my brother alone in the depths of his grief, I strode towards him, gun drawn and sent to him to the underworld with his equine companion. I began to cackle maniacally, content that I had established my authority.

As is most always the case, I had assumed dominance too early. Aforementioned brother proceeded to kill me several times in quick succession. To save face, and to stop an endless run of respawns, I called a truce and we proceeded to storm several gang hideouts. While this was fun, I found much more enjoyment killing NPCs, animals and other players unfortunate enough to join our session with a friend (or sibling as it were) in tow. Poor old sk8erbee, we hunted you down like a dog. You put up a good fight though, until next time.

I'll play the campaign on and off for the next few weeks and will post a review upon completion. The plan for now is to move onto some new stimulus (no Modern Warfare pun intended). We've just upgraded our download quota to the point where I can actually download recent releases from Steam without receding to snail speed. I am inexorably excited at the prospect of being able to download anything and everything until I fill up the hard drives on my 360, PS3 and PC (even my PSPgo). I've already picked up demos for Split/Second, UFC 2010, Rocket Knight, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Tiger Woods 11.

I'm tossing up whether I should get the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Elite Echelon Edition off Steam which includes all the Splinter Cell titles for less than 50 USD. What do you reckon? For me, Sam Fisher has always been Solid Snake's dorky, awkward cousin. From what I've heard, Conviction takes the series in a direction which I would find more agreeable. Chaos Theory was good fun with company, but Double Agent was mediocre at its best. I've always wanted to love the Splinter Cell games, but the combination of flawed stealth mechanics and Michael Ironside's ham-fisted voice acting have ensured that the Metal Gears have secured (exponentially) more playtime.  

I'm also planning to start on Lost Planet 2. My impressions so far have been mixed. Playing the co-op campaign has been an enjoyable exercise in brutality. For competitive matches however, the connection quality is so poor that I have not been able to complete a match. Not because I'm quitting, rather the connection drops after about 3 minutes. Not happy with that I must admit. If at all possible, I am going to avoid playing the campaign solo altogether. I've read enough to know that it's torture that is best avoided.

Can anyone help with Splinter Cell? Yay or nay?

Wednesday, May 26


It is slightly upsetting that there are not more people playing Red Dead Redemption online. Sure some people are playing through the single player campaign (I am still yet to finish it), but I was hoping that more people would at least log on and give it a try. What you will find is not the most refined experience, it is however unapologetically brutal. I've only played Free-For-All matches: they are fast, fun and messy. The auto-aim is a little too overbearing, and if you wait until you can see an opponent, and then choose to aim, you're targeting reticle will be right on them. Dead-Eye also makes it into FFA matches and is used in real-time. When you click the right stick, you'll have a few seconds to wave your reticle over enemies, mark targets and then fire off as many bullets as you can. It is also a little too effective. With the auto-aim and the Dead-Eye, you will sometimes feel like you have copped a few cheap deaths.

The reason I've kept going back though isn't the weapon selection (meh); or the large, vertical maps with ample amounts of cover. I haven't gone back for the cheap deaths and kill stealing. I've gone back because each match starts with a Mexican stand-off. With 2 players it is a great test of timing and wits. With 8, it is straight up hateful. The game suggests an opponent for you to kill and you will obtain a bonus if you manage to dispatch the pre-determined target. Once again, that's all good, but that's not the reason I love it. I love it because if there was someone who was absolutely ruling you in the previous round, you have a sound chance of getting revenge. In matches where there was one player dominating everyone, I couldn't help but laugh when every other player aimed square at the leader's head, and filled it with lead. After the first few shots are fired, it's a mad scramble. The stand-off will expire if players survive for long enough, but even in that event, it is quite the rush.

For anyone wondering, Free Roam is mind-numbingly boring by yourself. When in Free Roam solo, I decided to act on my most jerk-like impulses. It's fun for a little bit, but after about 5 minutes you will find yourself whistling for your trusty steed and dashing to a lobby.

I'm ranking up at a (suprisingly) steady rate and I am interested in trying out some team modes. The only problem is that given how slowly these matches populate, I dare say I lack the patience to actually compete in a team match. I'm going to put the multiplayer adventure on the shelf for now and complete the single player game. Do yourself a favour and start playing Red Dead!

Sunday, May 23

Deep Red Bells

Red Dead Redemption is Grand Theft Auto IV on horseback. To have assumed anything else would have been naive, and it is comforting to finally have this confirmed; for GTA IV is one of the greatest games released in the last few years with a gripping narrative, a cast of likeable characters, an authentic score and solid (if slightly flawed) gameplay.

There is no avoiding the comparison, or the conclusion. Most obviously, both games are third-person, sandbox action games developed by Rockstar. There are ample amounts of fetch quests at the outset of the campaign, designed to familiarise you with the controls and mechanics at play in the game. Missions are doled out by pivotal characters in a logical sequence, pushing you further out into the (brutal) landscape. There are various in-game vendors who sell weapons and consumbales. Also present are a variety of side quests from NPCs that are non-essential to the main story. You can also enjoy some mini-games which draw inspiration from the setting. Even the on-screen map is lifted from GTA IV. There are of course some subtle changes to the formula: health now regenerates if you hide from danger, there are (finally) mid-mission checkpoints and the cover mechanic is much tighter.

Does this mean that if you have played Grand Theft Auto IV you need not bother with Red Dead Redemption? Absolutely not. The story is truly compelling, and John Marston is proving to be even more endearing than Niko Belic. The combat is satisfying, with the refined Dead-Eye mechanic engineering some devastating kill shots. The soundtrack, while cliched, is thoroughly effective in capturing the grandeur of the Wild West. The missions you accept from non-essential NPCs, dubbed "Strangers," are also more interesting than those given by the random characters encountered in GTA IV. Plus, you don't see civilians attacked unprovoked by coyotes, cougars and other dangerous fauna in Liberty City.    

There is of course something else distinctly different about Red Dead Redemption: the landscape. The harsh, bitter, expansive landscape. It is possibly the most captivating aspect of the game. Nothing matches the spectacle of traversing the arid desert, watching rabbits and foxes scurry in front of your speeding equine companion. As you look up to the ominous sky, you can hear a steam-powered locomotive approaching from the east. You spur your horse on, matching the speed of the train. Against the sounds of the machinery and the various creatures, you hear a distressed traveller begging for help. Do you stop to help them? It could be a ruse, a trap to steal your noble steed. They may have been swindled themselves. There is so much violence, desparation and intrigue across this great land that it demands to be played.

Grandiose travel experiences aside, some of the mini-games and side quests are real time sinks. I spent an hour and a half playing Texas Hold 'Em on Saturday. I'm also prone to dropping anything and everything when I see a wanted poster.

I'm really looking forward to testing the multiplayer suite with a posse of noble/nefarious cowboys. I am hoping that enough of you grab Red Dead Redemption so that we can deliver some Unbearable Dutch justice to gamers across the world. Who's in partners?

Friday, May 21

Fun in the sun

Firstly, a massive thank you to Alex Connolly (AKA loyal reader, 4xscope) who has drawn up our new, uniquely Dutch header. It is great to see someone take such an interest in this endeavour and it definitely provides inspiration to keep on writing. Alex has also worked on the logo for our Facebook fan page, and the work displayed there is equally spectacular. I would also like to thank our small vocal minority who comment regularly on the blog. The dialogue on display here is interesting to say the least, and the Dutch lexicon borders on the controversial more often than not.

Bleak weather coupled with my darling Carly's work commitments has resulted in a situation that I have (shamefully) been longing for, for quite some time; I will be in the house alone, with a shiny new game, and nothing to make me feel guilty for lavishing my time and affection on my PlayStation 3 save for the deep, brown eyes of my dog, Bosca.

I plan to spend the majority of my time with Red Dead Redemption, however I am also hoping to conquer my recent aversion to survival horror games and start playing Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. It is recent in that up until the release of Resident Evil 5, I quite enjoyed my forays with survival horror games. My first encounter with the genre was via the Resident Evil 2 demo. I believe I would have played through that timed trial about 20 times. From those horrific seeds, came the flourished experience of the full game which was just as enjoyable and (embarrassingly) terrifying. I didn't finish RE3 or Code Veronica, but both were still good enough games in their own right. Resident Evil 4 however, is one of the greatest games I have ever played. I've touched on this before, but RE4 was so brutal to Leon S Kennedy that I fought tooth and nail to keep him healthy (read: with head firmly on shoulders). Other survival horror notables include Dino Crisis and one of the first true next-generation (now current) games, Dead Rising.

What's wrong with RE5? Nothing really; but, when compared to its predecessor, which was such a leap forward for the series, my limited experience with RE5 has been awkward, frustrating and above all disappointing.

I'll let you know how it goes either way. If I don't end up rediscovering the joy of survival horror there is always King of Fighters XII. I picked up the collector's edition, complete with a Terry Bogard statue for $19! If I find time I also plan to log some time on SSFIV and Team Fortress 2.

What are your plans for this weekend?

Post-script to Wednesday: After some spirited debate from one party, and some observations about a game I had already concluded that I would purchase from another, Lost Planet 2 will be the Reader's Choice for the week ending May 23, 2010. The decision was made much easier after the revelation that Lost Planet 2 contains the following:
  • A confetti shotgun
  • Frank West from the aforementioned Capcom classic, Dead Rising; complete with a teddy bear backpack 

Wednesday, May 19

So its up to a vote

This week sees the release of several high profile titles including: the already critically successful, Red Dead Redemption; franchise reboot; Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands; Xbox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake; PS3 exclusive cart racer, Modnation Racers; and explosive Disney racer, Split/Second. Also for consideration are several high profile games that were released last week: the sequel to the frost-bitten sleeper hit, Lost Planet 2; old-school RPG throwback 3D Dot Game Heroes; and the third game in a franchise that I have so far been uninterested in, Skate 3.

I'm picking up Red Dead for sure. I was huge fan of the first one (AND its local multiplayer), and it seems as though every game critic and their dog is jumping on the wild west bandwagon. I will leave it up to you, my beloved readers, to put your case forward for what should be my other purchase this week.

Why can't I make the decision myself?
That's easy. Lost Planet 2 has been critically savaged, however Penny Arcade and Kotaku have thrown their conditional support behind the Capcom battler. I appreciate the views of these websites for two reasons:
1) Krahulik and Holkins (Penny Arcade) are hilarious and if you aren't reading their web comic you're doing yourself a disservice;
2) Both teams play devil's advocate well. Kotaku is one of the few gaming publications which has abandoned the redundant practice of assigning quantitative scores to videogames.

I know what you're thinking: You (as in I, Tristan Damen) assign scores (out of 10) to games. As a smaller opinion provider, I believe a score allows me to summarize and legitimise my opinion. Once there are branches of Unbearable Dutch in multiple regions and I have several talented, credible authors keeping it Dutch I promise I will ditch review scores. Back on point, with nothing but raw opinion, and no score to dilute their evaluation, the Kotaku team (and scheme) are a valuable purchase evaluation tool. If you can't tell, I am so far most interested in Lost Planet 2 when compared to the competition, but due to severe critical backlash I have been forced to weigh up my options.

The 3D Prince of Persia games are starting to feel a bit old-hat, and, after the 2008 meh-fest, I have only slight interest in the lastest iteration of the classic franchise. Modnation Racers sounds interesting, and the user-friendly track editor is bound to add longevity, but I have trouble playing any kart racer that doesn't feature Mario (or at least blue sparks). Carly has thrown her support behind Alan Wake as she loves the opportunity to watch me play survival horror games. The combat looks fluid, but from all accounts the character of Alan Wake is unlikable at best. Split/Second looks beautiful, but consensus is that the core mechanic makes the game feel very one dimensional. As a Dutch fan (ha!), the new World Cup game gets a quick mention. I have fond memories playing the mediocre 2002 iteration with friends on the Gamecube. There are others, but the last that warrants a mention is Splinter Cell: Conviction. Sam Fisher is the dark horse, as his new adventure isn't shiny new, hasn't been showered in unbridled praise and features a comprehensive suite of multiplayer modes.

With great power, comes great responsibility. Please peruse the list below and make your recommendation.
  • Skate 3 (PS3/360)
  • Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (PS3/360/PSP)
  • Lost Planet 2 (PS3/360)
  • Alan Wake (360)
  • 3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3)
  • Modnation Racers (PS3)
  • Split/Second (PS3/360)
  • World Cup 2010: South Africa (360/PS3/PSP)
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction (360)
  • Mass Effect 2 (360), please note that I refuse to play through the first chapter again (zzzzzzzzzzzz)
Thanks in advance for your valuable opinions. Is everyone picking up Red Dead Redemption?

As a post-script to Monday's post: The Halo:Reach experience has well and truly fizzled. While the new abilities do serve to add some variety and unpredictability to the conflict, the lack of vehicles (that truly differentiate Halo from its competitors) has meant that any further time spent with the beta has been unmemorable.

Monday, May 17

Halo: Replica

I won't bore you with the details of my time with the PSP this weekend. I will however bring you the highlights. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite looks like a dream, but plays like a nightmare. It is a good game, with (potentially) hours of skinning, slaying and strategy, but my word is it brutally hard. I enjoyed little success on my quests, but my Felyne companion, Petunia provided some lols. I also logged a few hours with the portable version of Tekken 6, and while it looks beautiful and all the characters, and most of the modes (the modes worth playing anyway) from the home console version are present, fighting games are only half the fun if you aren't facing human competition. Further to that, some of the more subtle directional inputs possible with a PS3 controller are not possible on even the PSPgo's D-Pad.

This afternoon I managed to fit in a few matches of Halo: Reach, and I am happy to report that it has learned quite a few things from its FPS competitors. After having played Halo 3 with some buddies last weekend, I was afraid that Reach would be as (painstakingly) slow as its predecessor. This is thankfully, not the case. You can sprint (finally!), however only when fighting with a gear load-out which includes that as an armor ability. Not to say that sprint is the only ability worth using, but with it equipped, Halo: Reach does manage to capture the pace and intensity of contemporaries like Modern Warfare 2. There are 5 abilities to be used in the beta, and I imgaine Bungie may add one or two more before the retail release. The jetpack is slow, but fun. I found it especially useful during CTF matches. Evade (exclusive to Elites) is essentially sprint, but it cannot be turned off once activated. Active camouflage is great for sniping but ineffective (not entirely, but still compromised somewhat) when moving. I am yet to use Armor Lock because it sounds pointless. Sure you become invulnerable, but you can't move. Essentially what it means to me is that when in use, armor lock would render me impervious to harm, however my enemies would need only run behind me to assassinate me once the effect has expired. I would not be able to evade my enemies' impending attack from behind. I'll give it a go sometime before the 19th, but I'm sure I won't appreciate it as Bungie intended.

Sprint (and Evade) better enable you to perform assassinations, elaborately (for Halo) animated melee attacks from behind that will kill the unlucky recipient. Since Halo hasn't traditionally seen excessive amounts of blood spattered throughout its online battlefields (and Reach is no exception), the assassinations do not make their intended visual impact. Bungie had indicated that they anticipate the assassination to replace teabagging in the near future. Due to the lack of viscera however, I am sure that we will see young gamers squatting on the faces of the fallen for years to come. So far the assassinations look and feel like a missed opportunity, as hitting an opponent from behind with a melee attack does not necessarily equate to a fancy one hit kill animation. Sometimes it just looks like it always had previously in Halo-land, a king hit to the back of the head.

The two maps I've played on are the usual vertical Halo fare. Powerhouse reminds me an awful lot of High Ground, except slightly more ravine-ish and bereft of vehicles. Sword Base (silly name, ha!) is a winding, multi-level complex with several quality vantage points that are easily accessible. I'm yet to have a match on Boneyard, but it is a long time until Wednesday.

Throughout my matches I have only encountered one new weapon, and I had access to it from my first spawn. The new default Elite weapon, the Needle Rifle is for all intents and purposes, a Covenent version of the Battle Rifle. It looks better than a Battle Rifle, mainly because of the pretty colours, but it is used in the same fashion (hint: aim for the head). Melee hits are quicker, but also weaker. This change has not brought an end to the popular strategy of running at an opponent, showering them with bullets and finishing them off with a melee hit. It has however managed to lower the success rate of this methodology. Even with the Armor Abilites, Halo: Reach plays very similarly to its predecessors, but it does feel as though there has been enough added to warrant interest in the final release. 

To those of you who have Halo 3: ODST and a Gold Subscription, I recommend that you jump in and play a few matches just to see what has changed, and as what is most often the case in Halo: Reach, what has stayed the same. So far I've had quite a bit of fun, and I intend to get in quite a few matches more before the end of the beta. The only negative I have to report, which is to be expected, is the unbelievable pettiness, rudeness and puzzling homophobia of the Xbox Live community. After completing my last Stockpile match of the afternoon, a player sent me a message implying I was stealing points from them. To give a little bit more background, Stockpile requires players to deliver flags littered throughout the battlefield to their team's safe zone. After 60 seconds, you are given points for any flags that are in your safe zone. While defending my teams's stockpile, a friendly had been dispatched and a group of enemies began stealing flags. I threw a few grenades to handle the red menace and then quickly returned the stolen flags to the safe zone. So from this I can conclude that my efforts to consolidate the team's victory were not appreciated, and not all the blues were working toward a common goal, rather for their own personal gain. I am yet to encounter this sort of criticism while playing FPS titles over the PSN. I can attribute this to the following: a) Bluetooth headsets are much more expensive than the standard, wired 360 headset, b) A wired headset comes free with Xbox 360 Elite consoles. Whether these are the main reasons the Playstation 3 online community prefer to play silently or not, thank you gouging games retailers for expensive headsets.

Has anyone else had a go at the Halo: Reach Beta? Does anybody play on both Xbox Live and the Playstation Network? If so, which do you prefer?

Friday, May 14

Powered Up

I'm a little bit hesitant about going from one sandbox to the next, having finished Just Cause 2 and Red Dead Redemption coming out next week (yes!), so having a weekend away from the PS3 and 360 should do me some good. I'm in Lennox Head this weekend which means I won't even be able to play my PC games as there is no internet connection in the house and Steam is subjecting me to digital rights molestation (DRM is the fashionable acronym) which is also preventing access to single-player content. I have but one option, the humble PSP. PSPgo to be precise.  

I hate the PSPgo. Not only because Sony have been unable to offer a diverse range of new digital content to justify the purchase. Moreso because Sony (and the third party publishers that they blame) have refused to make available the PSP's bitching back-catalogue. Not to say that there are a lot of great games on the PSP, but there are plenty of good ones. I miss Megaman: Powered Up dearly and not just for it's charming, cutesy sprites, but also for its level editor. The levels created by the skillful dev team are brilliant yes, but sometimes I got sick of dying and resolved to create some simple stages, which weren't packed to the rafters with various enemies and killer gaps. Sometimes I would find myself clearing levels with ease and then wanted to make impossible challenges, only to laugh boisterously when the Blue Bomber cleared the killer gap, or navigated an unbelievably long pit of spikes.

Let's not forget that the PSP can also play PSone games. Why can't Activision release Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on the PSN Store? I don't care if they edit out the punk/rap soundtrack (of surprisingly high quality). You wouldn't even need the L2 and R2 buttons because the revert was yet to be invented. There are plenty of other classics that could do with a re-release like: Trap Runner, Marvel Super Heroes, Street Fighter EX plus Alpha, Rival Schools: United by Fate, Alundra, Bust a Groove (the dance game, not the PAL title for Puzzle Bobble), Dead or Alive, Tobal, Tobal No. 2, Star Wars: Dark Forces, Resident Evil 2 & 3, Dino Crisis, Tekken 3, Mortal Kombat 3, Wip3out. There is endless potential that Sony has so far been inept in its efforts to exploit.

It's not all bad. I plan to re-acquaint myself with Monster Hunter Freedom Unite and log a few hours on Final Fantasy VIII. The interface on the PSPgo is quite a bit more hand-friendly than the older models, but when it is all said and done, I would rather have a righteous hand cramp than go another day without Megaman: Powered Up. Have a good weekend all. Is anyone else getting some gaming in this weekend?       

Wednesday, May 12

In case you haven't played it: Just Cause 2 Review (PS3)

I've been playing Just Cause 2 in between drinks for nearly a month now, and after having just (literally minutes ago) completing the main story I feel as though I can put my thoughts on this game together and form a coherent argument as to why you should (or shouldn't) give it a try.

In Just Cause 2 there isn't really much of a story. I could tell you about Rico Rodriguez and the fictitious American agency (The Agency), and Panau's civil war and each of the warring factions but it is not worth noting. All you need to know about your part in Just Cause 2 is this: you are a handsome man who blows up just about everything because he can. Each of the factions are self-serving, there are no penalties for killing civilians. It is very easy to get detached from any sense of narrative or purpose in this game. It is for this reason however, that I believe I had more fun with it than most other action games that I have played in the last few years.

A beautiful tropical holiday: Just Cause 2 is set on the exotic, fictional island nation of Panau. Comprised of four main islands, and over 300 unique settlements: Panau is one of the largest play areas in the sandbox action game genre. I would argue that it is not fair to equate Panau to a Sandbox, it is the whole freaking playground. After completing the main story I am still yet to visit one third of all the settlements in Panau. The scale of Panau in terms of both its expanse and the height of several structures is impressive and while travelling you will notice that the draw distance is just as remarkable. The frame-rate is consistent for the most part, and that is particularly noteworthy during some of the more hectic moments of play where structures and vehicles are being destroyed in their multitudes with several enemies (still living) also sprinkling bullets, rockets and grenades at your feet. In previous posts I have complained of some low-detail enemies with awkward animations, but given the amount of action unfolding on screen at any given time such flaws can be forgiven.

Design your very own action movie: Just Cause 2 is exceptional because of the freedom it affords you. You are the director of every explosive scene and odds are, your experience with JC2 would be very different to that of your contemporaries. There are so many different ways to approach the game and its every mission, stronghold and settlement. Faction and Agency missions are set all over the country, but you can cause chaos in any number of ways. Thanks to the in-game vendor you can also order a variety of weapons and vehicles so you can tear across and through Panau however you want. You can stand on the shore of one of Panau's many vast beaches, order a speed boat to then visit and destroy offshore oil rigs. You can order a helicopter and two grenade launchers, fly above an enemy airbase, abandon your heli and parachute to the ground, raining explosives on the Panauan military. You have an extensive arsenal of weapons and vehicles at your disposal, and while I generally took to the skies in a helicopter with miniguns and rocket launches firing continuously, you could just as easily climb to a nearby mountain top using your trusty grappling hook, base jump from the peak and parachute to your objective. You can be as creative, or as plain as you choose. The lack of a compelling over-arching narrative and a forgiving checkpoint system also encourage you to go about your business in your own custom fashion, to make your own fun.   Best of all, JC2 allows you to capture your gameplay footage and upload it to YouTube. Both of the clips I've used in this post were captured using this feature. There is so much to see and do, and so much value to be had in JC2.

Smooth sailing: It is just as easy to drive a car as it is to fly a helicopter or a jet. No matter how you choose to cause chaos, it is so wonderfully simple. Just Cause 2 is so ridiculously fun. I often found myself laughing out loud due to the incomprehensible nature of the action occuring on screen. Sometimes I would boot up the game and ascend to the highest peak I could find and go base jumping. Sometimes I would search for collectable resource items across the many hundreds of settlements of Panau. Sometimes (not too often) I would even play through the faction and Agency missions. Not to say that the mission design in JC 2 is awful, quite the opposite. Agency missions progress the story while faction missions add to your Chaos count, which in turn unlocks Agency missions. If you would like a sample of the brilliant mission design on offer in Just Cause 2, I would recommend that you read one of my previous posts: Best I Ever Had, a transcript of the action from the faction mission entitled, Pirate Transmission. 

A mass of minor flaws: I loved my time with Just Cause 2, but I did come across some minor flaws which detracted from the experience. As mentioned in a previous post, the voice acting relies so heavily on South-East Asian stereotypes that it is almost offensive. The musical score is uninspired and I actually ended up turning the music off altogether. Enemies suffer from Uncharted syndrome, where they are ruthlessly aggressive and fire at you with unmatched accuracy. I couldn't hit enemies at 150m with an assault rifle but the lowliest Panauan soldier could hit me with a pistol from 2km away. The difficulty is inconsistent as well. As you progress through the game, your enemies will become better equipped and more resilient making settlement sabotage more difficult. Each time you die, you'll need to travel back to the settlement from the stronghold you most recently claimed. You can order extraction to the settlement from the in-game vendor at no charge, but it does break the momentum. Interestingly enough, stronger enemies doesn't necessarily equate to more difficult missions. The checkpoint system is perhaps a tad too forgiving, and I was rarely troubled by any of the story missions.

Anticlimax: I don't want to hit you with any spoilers but be warned: the final story mission is so terribly disappointing. Scratch that, almost all of the story missions end in disappointment. The fourth story mission is however, just about the best scripted mission you will ever play through: It's long, it's exciting, and it is action-packed.

Save some time for people watching: Upon completing the story I had only seen 24.70 percent of what Just Cause 2 has to offer. I'm now planning to grab a few more trophies by collecting more resource items and sabotaging more of the Panauan military's strongholds. If you are strapped for cash, I can easily recommend JC2 as it will keep you going for weeks and perhaps even months.

9/10: I will concede that, much like my play-through of Just Cause 2, I am merely scratching the surface. I believe however that this is one of the best action games made available over the last few years. There is such a variety of experiences available on offer here, and if you aren't having fun, odds are you're not using your true creative (destructive?) potential. Panau is the canvas on which you can paint scenes of discovery, conflict, humor and raw beauty. Even when I was being attacked by a multitude of soldiers I felt relaxed and that I could ultimately decide how each encounter began and ended. There are some flaws to be observed, but none are game-breaking and all can be forgiven. JC2 is just like all the classic 80s action flicks you remember: violent, ridiculous, and fun. Do yourself a favour, pick it up and make some fun.

Monday, May 10

Careless Whisper

Please be advised Activision has burgled 22 dollars from me. I will use foul language in this post, so if you find four letter words offensive please read no further.

The Stimulus Package is the biggest heist in the history of videogaming. After having bought it with my own money, and played the maps on my own copy of Modern Warfare 2, I can report that Activision robbed me of $21.95. A lot of you would have quite rightly and obviously thought: $21.95 for five maps is a rip-off, you should have known better. You're right, but lets explore how this is the biggest swindle going around.

3 new maps, 2 old ones: Crash and Overgrown are easily the two best maps in this package and if you still own the original Modern Warfare, rest assured there is nothing to see here. There are no changes to either map and while for most that would be acceptable, for me it underlines the severe lack of value to be found in the Stimulus Package. Of the 3 new maps, Bailout is the clear stand-out with an expansive play area and a maze of interconnected hotel rooms. I am indifferent towards Storm. It is a derivative experience which I feel has been included in hundreds of other previous shooters (It's a fucking warehouse with shipping containers smattered about!). Salvage is the worst first-person shooter map I've ever played through. I've seen it referred to as claustrophobic (in a positive tone) but whether I was trapsing through extremely tight passages or being shot in the back (soooooooo many times) in small open areas, every match on Salvage was terribly frustrating. Salvage was a small map for four players, I can't imagine how painful it would be with a full lobby of 16 players online.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$: The Stimulus Package is $21.95 on the Playstation Network and 1200MSP on the Xbox Live Marketplace. You can buy some truly fantastic games (full fucking games) for less. Want some examples? On the PSN you can grab Marvel VS Capcom 2, Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, PixelJunk Monsters, Peggle (FTW), Final Fantasy VII or VIII, or an assortment of PSone classics for under $21.95 (in some cases a combination of games). On the Xbox Live Arcade: Perfect Dark, Trials HD, Puzzle Quest - Rise of the Plague Lord, Catlevania: Symphony of the Night, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Halo, Doom and more for 1200 points or less. If you walk down to your local EB Games you can get Mass Effect pre-owned for $20! Hundreds of hours of quality RPG action for $1.95 less than the Stimulus Package. Gears of War is currently $13! A Game of The Year quality title for less than this shitty map pack. This is madness!!!

Setting a new price point: It is safe to assume that with 2.5 million sales on the XBLM (in the first week) and the PSN Store collapsing under the heavy weight of consumer demand, Activison will see 1200MSP and $21.95 as the new standard price for maps packs. This is, quite frankly unacceptable (read: fucked). The world's console owners have validated Activision's thievery and now we can expect inflation in the price of all downloadable content from the mega-publisher.

Infastructure: I haven't taken the stimulus package online yet , but one of our loyal reader's (thanks Sambo) has informed us that the new maps are only playable via the "Stimulus Playlist," which only adds to the calamity that is the Stimulus Package. This essentially means that players can't even decide how they use their 22 dollars worth of mediocre maps.   

If you are sitting on the fence about this, and haven't yet been swindled, please abide by the following: DO NOT ALLOW ACTIVISION TO PLUNDER YOUR POINTS!!!! (or Playstation Store wallet, whatever you choose).

When have you felt financially cheated by a game (or expansion, DLC etc)?

Friday, May 7

Deal with the Devil

How times change. Just over 5 years ago, Electronic Arts, better known as EA, was the evil empire of the gaming world. Pushing out sequels, spin-offs, spin-off sequels and annual installments of less than stellar quality in multitudes.  There were some diamonds in the expansive rough: Freedom Fighters, Def Jam: Fight for NY, The Godfather; but on the whole, gamers had to sift through tonnes of EA's crap.  I was a huge EA hater. Medal of Honour, Madden, Tiger Woods (05 excepted, I spent more hours playing that game than FFVII and VIII combined), Need for Speed, NBA Live, FIFA, World Cup 2002, oodles of Bond games; Electronic Arts was responsible for more crap in the naughties than most other publishers combined.

Fast forward to the present day. Activision merges with Blizzard Entertainment and becomes the world's biggest publisher of videogames. Its CEO often makes statements that are categorically offensive to anyone who follows the industry. The Guitar Hero franchise saw 5 titles released across multiple platforms in 2009 alone. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sells enough copies on day one to eclipse the most successful entertainment launches in history. It beat the Dark Knight! Activision prices the first map pack for Modern Warfare 2 at 1200 Microsoft points, causing waves of discontent to crash through videogame forums and media outlets. Activision becomes the new benchmark for greed and evil in the videogames industry.

To add to the confusion, EA starts releasing brilliant new games based on new intelectual properties. Mirror's Edge, Dead Space (haven't played it, but my brother swears by it), and Battlefield: Bad Company. The FIFA series gets better, Burnout Paradise is supported with an abundance of free content, the whole world goes mad.

Now after months of swearing I would never shake the devil's hand, I find myself contemplating the unthinkable, but inevitable: I should buy the Stimulus Package. Sure I would be supporting a corporation that sucks the fun out of the gaming industry, I would be spitting on my priciples but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm going to be playing some split-screen Modern Warfare 2 this weekend and I want as many maps as possible to slay my friends on.

Damn you Activision, you've broken me!!!!  

Wednesday, May 5

Best I Ever Had

No, this isn't about to get weird. I promise.

Last night I revisited Just Cause 2. I first set about causing chaos as per standard procedure. The Chippewa helicopter is my preferred instrument, cutting away at military installations and laying waste to hundreds of Panauan soldiers with dual miniguns. After clearing 2 or 3 bases I flew around listlessly until I finally decided to complete a faction mission: Pirate Transmission. You are required to scale a huge (HUGE) building, flick some switches halfway and then climb to the peak to destory a satellite and then jump off. Of course it will play out differently depending on your choice of conveyance and your choice of equipment (read: what you be packin'), but for me it was perfect. Like a walk in the park on a beautiful day with my Sweetie. It was magical.

I started my ascent in my Chippewa after causing just a little bit of chaos. Due to my transgressions prior to the climb, the Panauan military was in hot pursuit. After ditching my heli and hijacking one of their's, my rengade rise continued. Upon reaching the first objective, I awkwardly parked my ride and proceeded to flick the first switch. On my way to the second, I then received a panicked transmission informing me that there would be sentry guns at the next switch. I foolishly ignored the warning and proceeded to get shredded by various sources of gunfire. Near death, I plunged off the building and waited for my health to recover. Keep in mind, this was mid-plunge. This building was huge (HUGE).

Upon recovery, I decided to recommission the Chippewa and in seconds, all resistance was flattened and switches flicked. To my horror, Chip took too much fire. RIP. After a quick memorial for my fallen helicopter I then decided that I would use the conventional grappling hook to complete the journey. Just before the top, the stupid (read: bat shit crazy) AI crashed a helicopter into the side of the building just above me. I quickly dropped to avoid the wreckage and then motored to the summit for the explosive conclusion. I couldn't proceed with the objective straight away however. I had to take in the sights, the sun was out, a peerless blue sky, the sprawling urban landscape below. What a beautiful day to destroy a complex broadcast system.    

After doing the deed and base-jumping to safety, I reflected on a brilliant day out. Sure this isn't a perfect game, but it has provided a few precious memories.

Any examples of brilliant mission design you would care to share? Any stand-out levels that still bring a smile to your face?

Monday, May 3

Far From Perfect

Before last week, it had been about 9 months since I had been on the Xbox Live Marketplace. I thought it would be a joyous, tearful reunion but it was much more subdued. Not to say it was awkward or anything, it's just to say that very little has changed. The level of intrusive advertising has increased, the amount of content available has inevitably increased and there are a few new (seemingly) useless menus to wade through before I can find my game library.

With my initial feelings falling short of the expected high, I found consolation in some Xbox Live Arcade titles which were not previously available the last time I had custody of a 360: Trials HD and Perfect Dark.

I have had some experience with the Trials series before, having purchased Redlynx Trials 2: Second Edition via Steam. The experience on the 360 has been refined considerably. Sure the graphics are better and there are new tracks, but where Trials HD differs siginificantly from its PC counterpart is the physics engine which is, thankfully, more forgiving and less jumpy. With the laws of physics now in favor of the player, Trials HD is just as addictive as its predecessor only less frustrating.


Perfect Dark was loaded in the Damen family Nintendo 64 for months on end. As I had read that an XBLA remake was in the works, the urge to purchase a 360 started to increase much to my chagrin. Now that I have downloaded the game and I have spent some time trawling through the various modes, I've come to realise what value it represented on the N64 and what a great deal it is when compared to other XBLA titles. You get a full single-player campaign with dynamic mission objectives depending on the difficulty setting, a full multiplayer suite and a challenge mode which starts off slow but then quickly ramps up in difficulty. I had a few lols shooting goons and having them repeatedly slur "Why me?" The graphics have also been given a new coat of paint but for me it takes away from the sense of nostalgia. I would never say that Perfect Dark (XBLA) is a reason to own a 360, but it is definitely a perk.

While I am always a little trigger happy with the "Confirm Purchase," button when on the Xbox Live Marketplace, this weekend I came away with two winners. Do you guys buy many downloadable games on the PSN/XBLA? Are you happy with the quality of games on offer?