Wednesday, September 29

The Inhuman Condition

Dead Rising was a hard game. Armed with only a single save and several household items of limited durability, it demanded careful inventory and party management for success. You could increase the probability of success by restarting the single player quest with a seasoned Frank West; but even with a longer life bar, more item space and improved knowledge of the Willamette Mall, Dead Rising presented a formidable challenge. At first it was the hundred or so zombies on-screen, but then there were the various psychopaths you encountered on your travels, and the relentlessly slow-witted survivors you could escort back to the Safe Room for more experience points (dubbed PP for some reason). Despite the overwhelming horde of obstacles, each encounter I survived felt like a significant achievement.

Now we're presented with the inevitable sequel. Dead Rising 2 is in some respects more managable than its predecessor. The survivors you encounter are much smarter, and if you give them a weapon, they can be quite a force to be reckoned with. Pathfinding issues are rarely a worry, and seldom will you find them accosted by the undead. The weapon combo system while amusing, also affords players the chance to create zombie-dispatching tools of previously unrivalled power. Even the story missions (Case Files) have failed to present a challenge on par with that of the original. It all starts to slide quickly however when you encounter psychopaths, the Dead Rising franchise's equivalent of a boss fight. These encounters have escalated from tense to just plain cheap and painful. I've only managed to best one of these challenges so far, and even having restarted the quest with a reasonably strong Chuck Greene, I have been unable to put a dent in the few psychos I've come across. I can't slow these guys down with a homemade rocket launcher, the nail bat (my weapon of choice), or even the Exsanguinator. For those of you wondering, the Exsanguinator is a combination of a vacuum cleaner and saw blades. I'm too slow; and to add to the aggravation, even if I do manage to land a hit, it amounts to very little.

After bleeding through a few of these fights I started to realise that almost nothing had changed since the first instalment. Slightly better graphics and crazy weapons are great, but this is the same game I played when I first made the jump to current generation consoles (specifically, the Xbox 360). You could argue that Dead Rising 2 has competitive and cooperative multiplayer options, but these have failed to keep me fully engrossed. The competitive multiplayer feels like a hyper-violent version of the cheese-prone minigame farce, Fusion Frenzy. The connection quality wasn't horrible, but the action is so bland that this would not be an issue regardless. The only reason I would recommend you compete in Terror is Reality, is to earn money you can use in the single player adventure. I've only dabbled in cooperative play lightly, but I felt like a shepherd, helping to guide AI survivors with the host player. Maybe there would be more enjoyment found in abandoning the missions and proceeding to slay zombies en masse. I'll give it another go in future, and I swear I'll try to be more irresponsible when playing with others.

Even with all of the quirks and frustrations, I am still enjoying Dead Rising 2. That being said though, I am somewhat puzzled by the generally favourable critical opinion surrounding this title.

Anyone else joining the wholesale zombie slaughter? If not, how are you keeping busy?   

Monday, September 27

Rugby League Live and the God of Bore

Much to my surprise, Rugby League Live is actually playable. That is about the only praise I can level at Big Ant Studios' interpretation of the most unsophisticated sport known to man. The graphics are slightly upscaled from Rugby League 3 on the Wii, and fail utterly to capitilise on the power of current generation consoles. Sure some player's faces look vaguely like their real-life counterparts, but player models with comically oversized arms and in Lote Tuqiri's case, ridiculously small head look embarrassingly dated. Stadiams and jerseys are covered in textures so murky that even the ugliest Playstation 3 games would look picturesque by comparison. The control scheme is also inherited from the past generation, with no noticable changes since the initial instalment on the Playstation 2. Even the top-down view of the action remains. Despite all of this mediocrity, why did my party of three continue to play?

Honestly, I don't know; possibly because it is finals time. Rugby League Live falls just short of broken. After hours of sustained play we encountered several quirks and potential game breakers:
  • When players make a line break, if you pass to a support player they will stop dead to receive the ball. This usually results in a tackle, meaning that you should probably just keep the ball in one player's hands and hope for a broken tackle.
  • When on the attack you have two choices: either hold X to sprint at the line or mash X in an attempt to break the tackle of approaching defenders. You could pass, but out of all the games we played, any attempt to spice up play with cut-out passes almost always ended with an intercept. Whether you hold or mash X, you'll end up making similar gains.
  • If in defense, you can shut down the attack by sprinting at the line. As above, even if you do suffer a line break, it will more than likely be shut down. My brother had perfected defence to the point where I spent 80% of games in my own half. Suprisingly in spite of this, games were still usually low-scoring affairs with both players rarely tallying more than 10 points in total.  
  • First to score almost always won.
  • No team was rated above 89 (selectable from the outset at least; despite my best efforts I could find no proof that the Indigenous and All-Star teams made the game). Team ratings were puzzling to say the least, with the Cowboys rated higher than the Broncos and the Raiders, and equal with several far better squads. The Melbourne Storm, which is for all intents and purposes an all-star team, was only rated 82. 82!    
  • Even though I had read/heard opinions to the contrary, defense did present some fun.
Perhaps the greatest frustration is that EA Sports Rugby Union effort Rugby 2006, is still a far superior game. Sure Union and League are two different sports, but I would argue switching to a sideline perspective and a similar control scheme would transfer favourably to a Rugby League title. I would urge you all to steer clear of Rugby League Live until it reaches the greatest depths of the bargain bin. It is criminal that anyone would charge $109.95 for this half-baked footy pie.   

This past weekend I also spent some time with the brief, and underwhelming demo for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. I'm sure the final product will allow for something different to the gameplay on show in the trial, but developers should be aiming for more than God of War action with comparable graphics; but I can only comment on what I have played. Saying that any title has visuals comparable to that of God of War (in this case, the third instalment) should be taken as high praise: as the new Castlevania looks ridiculously good from a technical perspective. High-quality visuals aside, it's square and triangle for attacks, X for jump, shoulder buttons for grapples and absolutely nothing new introduced to the third person action formula. Yawn.

I'm sure that I will end picking up CLoS, especially given that Kojima Productions have had some input. I must admit though, I'm dead tired of God of War wannabes.

What did you all play this weekend?

Friday, September 24

Getting Personal on the Battlefield

I'll start by sharing an exchange between two combatants, before a match of Team Slayer in Halo:Reach today:

"Shut up!"
"Shut up!,"
"You're such a loser mate, shut up!"
(Match begins in 5, 4, 3, 2.....)

While not always as intellectually charged as the dialogue above; every two or three matches you'll hear two jackasses locked in purile, verbal combat before the shooting actually begins. As if these exchanges didn't already elevate Halo to the upper eschalons of cultural practice, wait until you see what happens when you get a Killing Spree in a Swat match. I've never been teabagged so vigorously. With the taste of flesh still on my tongue, I carried on. Embarrassed slightly, but still eager to thrash out a win.

Despite these prepubescent displays of aggression, competitive multiplayer is still Reach's strongest attribute (at least based on my experience at this point). Nothing matches the satisfaction of a headshot on a sprinting enemy (and with the Recon loadout, you CAN sprint). Sure, racking up a Killimanjaro or Killtrocity medal in Firefight feels like an achievement; but your AI opponents only really present a challenge in their superior numbers.

I've played through the first four levels of the campaign, and while the action is top notch, the dialogue and drama is about as fresh as a double smoked ham. Honestly, the Noble Squad are for the moment, the greatest bunch of knobs to grace gaming since Sonic the Hedgehog and his ragtag crew of misfits in Sonic Adventure. I just cannot relate to these tough nuts at all. I also loved the action movie/game cliche during Noble 6's introduction to the squad at the outset of the adventure. It went something along the lines of:

"I've read your profile 6. I'm glad to have someone with your skill set, but I want none of the lone wolf stuff. We work as a team!"

Just for once I'd like my squad commander to say:

"I've read your profile faceless protagonist. I must admit, I didn't think there was a place for a paper-pushing administrator on the battlefield; but I'm just glad to have someone as wonderful, and as caring as you by my side in this, the darkest of all hours. Hold me, you vague, mysterious man!"

Despite my nitpicking, anyone with an Xbox 360 has no excuse to pass up this title. As a value proposition more than anything else, Halo: Reach cannot be beaten. Good enough graphics (noticable slowdown, with the occasional temporary freeze), solid action and a comprehensive suite of single player, competitive and cooperative modes; Bungie's Halo swan song offers endless hours of space opera action.

What are you guys playing this weekend?  

Wednesday, September 22

You Were Always On My Mind

Still buzzing after the announcement that Street Fighter and Tekken would merge to form two new games, this past weekend brought the announcement of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 at the Tokyo Game Show. One of my favourite games on the Playstation 2, and in my opinion, easily the best instalment in the series; Tekken Tag Tournament was the perfect combination of quasi 3D fighting games and tag team wrestling action. The home console version also featured the best ten pin bowling game I have ever played, Tekken Bowl. When TTT2 makes its way inevitably to current generation consoles, it damn well better include an interpretation of another niche sport with it. Like badminton. Tekken Badminton would be awesome.

I finally received my copy of Halo:Reach in the mail. Much to my distress it was the NTSC-J version, and I thought I would have another week (at least) to wait before I could tell what any other gaming press outlet has been telling you for weeks (in some cases, months and years) before now. Luckily enough, the label appears to have been all for show, and the game has played on my console for hours without incident. From the menu, Reach impresses. With the touch of a few buttons I had jumped into a Firefight match with my brother, and we were Killionaires in the making.

Rather than harp on about the visuals, and the score, or how it's still a Halo game; I thought I would share some of the more interesting experiences I've had with Bungie's blockbuster. There seems to be a medal for just about anything you do in matchmaking. There's a medal for not dying after nearly dying, there's a medal for killing the person who killed you last, or whoever killed your friend. There are also medals awarded for the skilled use of, and abuse of those who are using a jetpack. Not since my time with Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight have I had such fun with a jetpack. JK had a pretty industrious mod community, and some of the better products were the afforementioned jetpack, a grappling hook and a World Championship Wrestling skin pack. Back on point, flying around is fun, however swatting Halo's version of a fly feels like much more of an accomplishment.

New to the Rumble Pit playlist is the Race match type. My first attempt appeared to have bugged out. None of the promised checkpoints appeared on screen, and rather than being penalised for rage-quitting, I played through ten pointless minutes on a Mongoose. The second match played as intended, and it was funny to see me and 2 other players legitimately compete while the others set traps along the path. Why did they abandon the pursuit of victory so soon? How come 5 players resigned to defeat so quickly? It was fun, but it was also quite puzzling.

Just as I'm getting my claws into Reach, Dead Rising 2 appears on the horizon. It's a great time to be a gamer. What are you playing at the moment?

Monday, September 20

Future : Perfect

One of the more exciting developments of the past week was the release of Sonic Adventure on the Xbox Live Arcade. Understandably, this news was lost in the haze following the launch of Halo: Reach. When I say it was lost, I mean the only place it was to be found was on the XBL Marketplace. There was no post to acknowledge the release on Major Nelson's blog, nor was there an advertisement for this modern day classic on the Xbox 360 Dashboard. This was most troubling to me, as the rumour of the future release of Dreamcast games on the XBLA is one of the main reasons I purchased (another) Xbox 360. Thursday marked the beginning of the perfect future I have always dreamed of, where all of the nostalgia I could possibly crave is available for download.

Despite this beautiful new beginning, I can't help but think to myself, "Why has this taken so long?"

For companies like Sega and (even more obviously) Sony, wouldn't it make sense to make your extensive back-catalogues from previous console generations available to consumers at a cost? In Sega's case, available to more consumers as they already have Mega Drive and Master System games for sale via the Wii Virtual Console.

I understand that there would be a litany of legal issues involved with the re-release of games from previous hardware generations, particularly licensed titles (Madden, FIFA, WWE). But let's forget about them for now, and focus on titles released by the console makers themselves. Sony has been releasing what they have dubbed "PSone Classics" at a painstakingly slow pace, and the choice of titles rarely fits the moniker. Even more frustrating is the fact that they are still yet to facilitate the purchase of Playstation 2 games, even though I have read several stories about patents for software, and puzzlingly, hardware to emulate the games of an age not long since passed.

I'm happy that I can finally play through Sonic Adventure, as it was one of my favourite games on Sega's final console; but on the other hand I can't help but think this should have been done sooner.

Addendum: That Ain't How It Happened
Playing through the first few hours of Sonic Adventure, I can now appreciate that nostalgia is a powerfully deceptive concept. I'm not saying that it's a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, however action games have come along way since the Dreamcast debut of Sega's blue mascot.

Let's travel back in time about ten years, when I first played the game with my older brother and one of our best friends, Daisy. We made it all the way to the final boss fight after an all-nighter, with very little trouble. I can't remember us having any trouble navigating between stages, and the presentation both in terms of sound and graphics was a leap ahead of anything we had previously experienced.

Now, with a very rough port to the current generation, Sonic Adventure is an shaky, disorienting diamond. The voice work is unbearably camp, and for the most part sounds as though it was recorded in a dank basement. The dialogue reads like the musings of a 6 year old, Sonic fanboy. The soundtrack appears to have been composed, written and performed almost entirely by David Lee Roth. The camera moves with the swift, unpredictable rhythm of a jungle cat. The level design, while competent, features noticably long sections where no input is required by the player. This is a classic that has not aged too well. Still, for 800 Microsoft Points you could do a lot worse.

What games from previous console generations would you love to be able to download? What did you play this past weekend?

Friday, September 17

In case you haven't played it: Mafia II Review (PS3)

I never played the original Mafia. I can only attribute this to the lack of a capable PC upon its release, as sandbox action games usually push all of the right buttons for me. I must admit that the sequel was not of interest to me until I downloaded the demo a month ago. The vibrant city of Empire Bay immediately captured my attention, and the characters, soundtrack and visuals presented in this playable portion almost demanded a day one purchase. 2K Czech's latest release is a powerful, yet flawed insight into the highs and lows of life with the mob. 

The Good
Quit messing around - Mafia II offers a different approach to the open world action game. The first level for example, takes place outside of the main sandbox of Empire Bay. No driving, just shooting. It caught me off guard, and it was an effective introduction to both the protagonist, and the allure of life as a powerful made man. After this adventure outside of the main play area, Mafia II forces you to work through the main story arc with little respite. There are no side missions, and while you may be able to rob stores and shop for guns and clothes, odds are you won't want to engage in these distractions.

A grand tale - This is mob drama at its finest. Vito Scaletta is one of the most convincing anti-heroes to helm a game in recent memory, and while I couldn't understand his motives entirely, the effect of each chapter's events were noticeable on him. Each relationship formed or broken opened up more opportunities for reprisal, and as the stakes became higher, both he and I feared what was to come. Vito's personal reflection at the beginning of the final chapter is one of those rare moments where videogames parallel the narrative depth of film and written text. The supporting cast (with the exception of Vito's sister) is also strong, and while there may be a few cliched characters, it was a forgivable trapping of the subject matter. The dialogue is authentic and well written; even the small talk heard while driving between mission objectives is worth listening to. In an earlier post I disclosed the embargo my lovely fiance placed on Mafia II while she prepared an assignment. It was an excruciating 5 day wait to conclude the narrative.

We love this city - Empire Bay is a hauntingly beautiful city to behold. Sometimes I would be distracted by the grandeur of the structures that fill the horizon as I drove across bridges at sunset. While the sandbox may be smaller than what I am used to, it looked good enough for me not to care. More striking though is how the city transforms in the rockin' fifties, both in terms of what people are wearing, the cars and the music you hear on the radio.

Free(D)LC - I've touched on this earlier, however much has been made of the fact that Mafia II lacks the trimmings of genre stalwarts like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, in so far as activities peripheral to the main story arc. The Betrayal of Jimmy downloadable content pack is included at no charge with new copies of the Playstation 3 version of the game, and provides much of the unsolicited violence and lawlessness that many may have thought the principal narrative was lacking.   

The Bad
I've seen you before - While the principal cast is modelled and animated to great effect, the residents of Empire Bay do not appear to be an overly diverse group. You will start to see a lot of people dressed the same, even with the same faces; particularly in Chinatown. Come to think of it, Vito's sister and Joe's favourite working girl looked so much alike that you would think they are related, which is slightly unsettling.

Well this is awkward - With the exception of driving, everything in Mafia II takes a little more effort than it should. The cover mechanic is solid, but aiming is not as fluid as you would hope. Often I found myself popping out from safety at the wrong angle, or without adequate view of my enemies. Climbing over obstacles and opening doors usually involves hitting the required button more than once, because you may not be looking at the object at the required angle.

Aim for the head - The average thug in Mafia II can withstand an amazing amount of punishment. Unless you go for the headshot, expect to empty a clip into each enemy you encounter. To make matters worse, your opponents will generally rush toward you, and the aiming is sluggish enough that this will often result in death (for you).

You want to look at porn now? - Collectibles are a staple in most sandbox games, and Mafia II is no exception. There are two kinds, Playboy centrefolds and Wanted posters. Wanted posters are scattered throughout Empire Bay, but the centrefolds are hidden in specific points in each chapter. In one level I was running past a window that was being pelted with bullets only to pick up a Playboy on my way to the next fight. It's a minor gripe, but perhaps the developers may have considered placing them in more organic locations. Don’t shoot, I’m reading Playboy!

The Ugly
Law enforcement for dummies - The police in Mafia II are so ineffective and thuggish that one would think the denizens of Empire Bay would probably prefer mob rule. They push the pedal to the floor and will do nothing but ram you from behind until they get a little too amorous, and collide with a building or another car. They are dispatched easily, and do nothing but frustrate you in some of the more tense sections of the game. Take my advice, if you have a wanted level of two stars or less, just bribe the police and enjoy the game until your next infringement.

The last fucker in the room - Forgive my rudeness, but I can remember at least 5 times when I had killed all but one enemy in a difficult encounter, only to be killed by the last henchman when I had a full bar of health. So out of 20 guys, the last one left has the eyes of a hawk? It may seem like a mild complaint, but given the inconsistent placement of checkpoints, I found myself replaying some lengthy sections (and repeatedly watching a lot of scripted sequences) just because of the last man standing.

7.5/10 - Mafia II's endearing cast and compelling narrative make up for many shortfalls in level design and gameplay mechanics. For those of you in the mood for a well-directed and focussed experience, I would highly recommend that you pick up this game and put it through its paces. If you're expecting a standard sandbox adventure with all of the distractions typical of the genre, be well warned: Vito Scaletta is making a name for himself and the rest of Empire Bay be damned!

Wednesday, September 15

The Weight (Wait) of Expectation

For those of you wondering, I am yet to receive my copy of Halo:Reach in the mail, and the suspense is killing me. I'll live, don't you worry, when I think about it, I still have plenty of games to play through. With that said though, I'm keeping my phone close to me, waiting anxiously (and jealously) for impressions of Microsoft's latest blockbuster.

Now to more pressing matters.

At the end of this year I will be marrying my sweetheart of 6 years and taking an extended honeymoon. While I still intend to write, I would be keen to know if any of you are interested in joining the Unbearable Dutch team. Due to the consoles I own, and the videogame genres I am partial to, I acknowledge that some of your interests may not be satiated by my coverage alone. If you are interested in having your work published on the blog, please send through an example of videogame themed prose to my email address. You could write anything: impressions of a recent release, nostalgic musings, reviews or opinions on the industry at large. Your work would need to be light on coarse language, and free of racial vilification, or offensive overtones. You can submit your work via email ( or Facebook (via private messaging).

I would not be expecting anyone to publish 3 times a week, if anything I would like to have a diverse range of contributors speaking Dutch.  There are lot of games and industry changing peripherals coming out soon (ie. Move, Kinect and possibly the 3DS), and massive releases (Call of Duty: Black Ops, Medal of Honor, Rock Band 3, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Singstar + Dance and many more) that I may not cover, or would even appreciate a second/third/fourth opinion on.

If there is enough interest, you may be seeing some new authors sooner, rather than later. I hope you will take the opportunity to contribute to this small, but passionate community.

Dutch note: I am not taking the piss when I refer to Singstar + Dance, or any other music game for that matter. I used to be a big fan of the Guitar Hero franchise, until I realised that there aren't fret buttons and strum bars on real instruments.

Monday, September 13

Got a Light?

Until as recentlty as Friday night, I hadn't played Halo 3: ODST for more than 10 minutes. Now that the Reach hype-machine is in full swing however, I found myself loading up the glorified expansion on Friday night and resolved to, as Bungie put it, "Finish the Fight." I must admit that after about 5 hours of solid play, I wasn't bored, and I wasn't in pain; I had actually enjoyed myself. It isn't the most innovative game I've ever played, but it's paced exceptionally well, and some of the characters are actually likeable. Further to that, the story (with the exception of the concluding chapter) is intriguing, and provides enough of an incentive to reach (ha! Halo pun) the conclusion. The last level adds further weight to the argument that Bungie cannot close a story well, if at all. An excrutiatingly long vehicle sequence, followed by a disappointing three wave set piece concludes with an underwhelming cutscene that brings little resolution to the events that have transpired. Despite claims to the contrary, ODST plays exactly like any other Halo title except for the lack of the ability to dual-wield weapons. There were however, some aspects of this installment that set it apart from its predecesors.

While the visuals are of an impressive scale and are generally of high quality, the lighting effects employed in Halo 3: ODST served to frustrate and bemuse me. Most of the game is played in low light situations, and while you can change your visor settings to illuminate areas and highlight enemies, the effect rarely assists you and in some cases can lead to discomfort. Indoors, most features are bathed in a warm yellow, but it is still hard to find your way around. In exterior locations, switching on the light visor causes a harsh glare which usually subsides to the point where your eyes won't dry completely. This effect occurs in all but darkest night. Even when the sun has set, and all that can be seen is a lovely, dark pink hue in the heavens above, turning on the light will cause brief agony.

I appreciated the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers and their plight more than Master Chief, Cortana and the principal narrative and character set of the Halo franchise. Save for the awkward romance between Buck and Dare, and the ever-whinging Romeo (I know you've got a punctured lung, just shut up already), I enjoyed viewing and playing the Covenant invasion from each of these soldier's perspectives. The Rookie is also a bit of a missed opportunity, with Bungie opting to not have him/her speak or emote so players can still imagine themselves as being part of the action. Speaking of action, the level design in ODST is a step up from that found in Halo 3. In this case, quality outweighs quantity as the often bite-size levels still manage to condense all of the scale and intensity of the series' greatest firefights into mercifully shorter sequences. The only exception to that statement is the last level, which as previously discussed falls just short of abject failure.

I played through the campaign alone, which is a first for me with the Halo franchise. Even against as much as twenty enemies, I was rarely frustrated and almost always could acknolwedge that my deaths were the result of my own reckless behavior. Halo 3: ODST showcases the best aspects of Microsoft's flagship franchise, and it also manages to avoid most of the pitfalls found in previous installments. I'm glad that I finally invested some time in the game, and it has acted as an effective prelude (gameplay-wise, at the very least) for the incoming chapter of the series, Halo: Reach.

Who else will be buying Reach this week, and anyone attending a midnight launch? Has anyone ever attended a midnight launch for a game previously?  

Friday, September 10


In all honesty, I cannot see what the fuss is about. So Mafia II doesn't feature hours worth of peripheral activities that most players disregard anyway, why does the gaming press at large care? One of the main  criticisms levelled against 2K Czech's mobster-themed, sandbox adventure game is that Empire Bay doesn't feature any sidequests with which players can engage. After having played my fair share of games in this genre though, I believe Mafia II has made a stronger impression on me because of its strong focus on narrative as opposed to padding. With the possible exception of Red Dead Redemption, I very rarely find myself wandering off the beaten narrative track in sandbox games. I can attribute this to a couple of factors:
  • Peripheral activities in sandbox action games are often derived from missions that I find frustrating. Example: Racing in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. The floaty car physics and my aggressive (read: inept) driving style lead me to make a few errors too many in what are usually, fiercely competitive and dirty contests. 
  • Peripheral activities in sandbox action games often focus on morally objectionable activities which may come into conflict with the beliefs and actions of a game's protagonist, or that are just plain repugnant. Example: Snatch and Escort missions in Saint's Row. Please keep in mind the following video is NSFW and contains violence, strong language and sexual references.

Now let's assume you reject my arguments against open-world sidequesting, any new copy of Mafia II on the PS3 comes with the free downloadable content pack: The Betrayal of Jimmy. I played through this pack yesterday and can advise that it is about 6 hours worth of pointless murder and theft with the barest of plots tying all the action together. On its own it's not much, and definitely not worth the $12.95 2K are charging gamers who buy a second-hand copy. Combined with the retail product however, The Betrayal of Jimmy adds the secondary activities that gaming critics appear to sorely need.

For anyone who is on the fence, grab the game new and enjoy the best of both worlds. The main story arc is so compelling that Carly had banned me from playing it until she completed an assignment (thankfully, it was submitted today). The Betrayal of Jimmy did enough to keep me loving Empire Bay, the soundtrack, the difficult combat sequences and the city's moronic police force.

In other news, I've recently ordered Yakuza 3, Halo: Reach and Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. Yakuza 3 arrived this afternoon, so I'm looking forward to seeing how organised crime works in the East. Otherwise, next week I will get to enjoy (probably) the most anticipated release on Microsoft's console and a shooter with a distinct visual style. Good times!

What are you all playing this weekend?

Wednesday, September 8

The DLC Downlow: Bioshock 2 - Minerva's Den

Sequel to one of the greatest games of this generation, Bioshock 2 was an action-packed return to Rapture. While not as striking as the original, there were enough additions and improvements made to the gameplay to make up for the lack of narrative direction. After several multiplayer-focused add-ons, Minerva's Den is the second piece of single player downloadable content made available for game on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live. The expansion catalogues Subject Sigma's bid to escape Rapture with Charles Porter and his greatest achievement, the Thinker. Minerva's Den houses the Thinker, as well as much of the machinery which powers the automated, Art Deco dystopia of Rapture. With the help of Porter and franchise regular, Dr Bridgette Tenenbaum; Subject Sigma tackles splicers, Big Daddies and the mad mathematician, Reed Wahl.


The Good
New tools - There is a new plasmid and weapon available in Minerva's Den. The Gravity Well plasmid has applications in both combat and exploration, allowing you to throw a polyp which sucks enemies and items into the void it creates. The visual effect for the fully upgraded ability is impressive, and is especially useful when ADAM harvesting. The Ion Laser, while not as fun to experiment with, has the potential to dispatch some of the stronger opponents you encounter on your journey.

The final twist - The story of Subject Sigma ends in spectacular fashion, with the final jaw-dropping revelation made all the more memorable by a challening final encounter with Wahl and his minions. The journey may have dragged for a little while, but the last hour of this expansion was a real joy to play through.

If it ain't broke - All of the fantastic weapons from Bioshock 2 (including my favourites, the Rocket Spear and Trap Rivet) make their return in Minerva's Den. ADAM gathering still demands the same level of strategy, and the aggro splicers making a dash for your Little Sister still illicit the same urgent response. The strong, core gameplay elements of the initial retail release are all present in this add-on.

The Bad
Fetch boy - Minerva's Den is essentially a four hour long series of fetch quests. These quests are punctuated with the series staple of rescuing/harvesting Little Sisters, and hacking bots/vending machines. Power to the People stations are absent from this release, with players instead finding weapons (and upgrades) scattered throughout Minerva's Den. Apart from the fantastic final area, Minerva's Den drags its feet around Rapture.

Blair Witch - Apart from the final area, it is very hard to distinguish any of the hallways, basements and Art Deco design in Minerva's Den from any other part of Rapture. Bioshock veterans will find very little here that they have not seen before.

Various visual blemishes - The same issues with texture loading present in the initial release have not been remedied in Minerva's Den. While it is a minor gripe, every blurred character model and item do impact on the experience.

The Ugly
Rude Welcome - When you visit the first Gatherer's Garden in Minerva's Den you are taunted with the opportunity to earn more ADAM to expend in Minerva's Den, by playing through the previously released Protector Trials DLC. Nothing sucks you out of an immersive experience quite like advertising.

7/10 - If by the end of Bioshock 2 you began to tire of the dark corridors of Rapture, avoid Minerva's Den. It is more of the same. If you are not quite yet fatigued by Andrew Ryan's Art Deco dystopia, then this content is well worth the asking price. There is about 4 hours worth of playtime available in this expansion, and some of the revelations and set pieces should be experienced.

Monday, September 6

Super Fun Happy Slide

I don't know who would be responsible for changing the name of Vanquish. The unbelievably chaotic (I dare even use the word zany) 3rd-person shooter, developed by Platinum Games and distributed by SEGA has finally been picked up by my gamer radar (Gamedar?), and now the end of October seems an agonisingly long way away. I would argue that a title like Vanquish fails to differentiate the game from its competition as much as the snippet of gameplay on offer in the Velocity Attack Demo, released last week on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network managed to do. Perhaps something like Rocketkneeslider Rallies Against Russian Robots or (wait for it) Super Fun Happy Slide would be more fitting.

Videos don't seem to capture the madcap brilliance of Vanquish, at least not when compared to the unbridled glory of your first rocket slide. My first slide ended in tragedy (read: death), but the euphoric movement immediately arrested my attention. Perhaps the greatest surprise was how much control I had over my own fate, holding L2 to move smoothly between sources of cover or around my enemies. Just because I had rockets strapped to and around my ass, did not mean that I was slamming into walls in a pinball-esque frenzy. After a few minutes, I had mastered the art of propulsion and fun ultimately ensued.

The visuals are technically impressive due to sheer amount of shrapnel, robots and rockets flying on screen at one time. There were so many moments which made me cackle in nerdy delight. Whether it was when I first commandeered the Star Wars-inspired walkers or the ridiculously entertaining quick time event during the two-phase boss battle at the close of the demo; Vanquish is full of moments that are bound to illicit many a giddy thrill. For the Street Fighter Alpha fans out there, try rocket sliding into a melee attack. It is slightly Adon flavoured.

I have only three gripes with my first taste of Vanquish. Firstly, it was too short. I want more rocket-fuelled madness, and I want it soon (if not now). Second, the voice acting. Imagine Gears of War style, ham-fisted bravado without swearing. Simply put, it is not working for me at all. Last of all is the weapon selection. All the firearms available in the demo seem to be your usual shooter fare: shotguns, sniper rifles and various machine guns. There is no monkey-navigated missile, or equally wacky contraption to match your knee and ass rockets. With that said, I should note that all the standard weapons handled as expected.

My only fear is that this demo may be similar to that of John Woo's Stranglehold, where the game's primary mechanic was displayed effectively, yet failed to carry the full retail release. I played through the Stranglehold demo about 15 times, laughing maniacally each time I dispatched an enemy in slow-motion or shot them in a tender area using Precision Aim. While I am yet to play the Velocity Attack Demo as many times, it is making a lot of promises that I hope it can deliver on.

What did you all play this weekend?

Friday, September 3

Taste the Future

I haven't had a chance to continue with Mafia II, thanks to the release of Dead Rising: Case 0. Both releases are polar opposites in terms of pacing, if I have to make a comparison. Back on point, the original Dead Rising showed the potential of next (now current) generation hardware. It may have been somewhat clumsy, but its predominantly humorous tone, and an urgent pace in concert with the sheer amount of enemies to dispatch made for an unforgettable experience. The promise of a playable prologue, with the ability to level up new protagonist, Chuck Greene before the retail release was an offer I could not pass up.

After viewing 2 of the possible endings, specifically the best one and one of the more depressing outcomes, I can advise that Dead Rising: Case 0 is the future of the demo. Electronic Arts (EA on the mean streets) had hinted that in the near future they would be interested in releasing "very long game demos," at a cost to consumers, similar to Battlefield 1943. Case 0 costs 400 Microsoft Points, can be completed (read: will be, whether you are ready or not) in a couple of hours, feautures 12 unlockable achievements and showcases characters and feautures from an impending, full retail release. It was a little bit longer than the average demo, and it cost me money. Sounds like EA's business model has been usurped by a competitor.

It is well worth the paltry price of admission, but for those who did not enjoy the original, know this: nothing has changed. Nothing at all. Combat is still clumsy, survivor AI is still poor, and your objectives (both main and peripheral) are timed. On the plus side, the visuals have received a minor upgrade, and the weapon combination system will provide some laughs. Also of note, firearms can now be used effectively.

The formula may not be as refreshing this time around, and this can be attributed to the small play area and the mixed direction. You'll be doing a lot of backtracking, as well as reading a lot of dialogue text. There is not much in the way of voice work and cut-scenes, but any gaps in presentation are made up for with solid zombie slaying action. There is a single boss fight. It was a bit of a letdown and was conquered on my first attempt. As with the original instalment however, the most satisfaction comes not from an encounter with a lone enemy, rather it is found when running into a blood-thirsty horde and swinging away with a spiked bat. Case 0 is an essential experience when compared to its downloadable competition on the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network (for those of you who don't know, it is an X360 exclusive). If you own a 360, I heartily recommend downloading this prologue to Capcom's upcoming zombie-themed action RPG.

What are your thoughts on zombies and videogames? Any favourites? Have gamers had enough of zombie flavoured armageddon? More importantly, what are your thoughts on the impending death of the free demo?

Wednesday, September 1

Taking it Slow

My heart was pounding, my brow dripping with perspiration. I nearly cried at one point, I was so frustrated. But approximately an hour after publishing Monday's post, I loaded up Shank and finally bested the final boss. It felt good for an instant, however the conclusion to the narrative is brushed over so quickly. I felt cheated. To have no reward for surviving such a harrowing experience is unbelievable. Still, even after being treated so badly, I started playing it on hard difficulty.

As much as I loved Shank however, I resolved to start playing through Mafia II. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. The visuals, particularly facial animations, are of high quality; and while the Playstation 3 version may apparently be the weakest of the 3 available, it still looks as good, if not better than most of the open world competition. Empire City in Winter, save for a few fuzzy structures, is quite the sight with snow falling and well-dressed citizens going about their daily business. Given the snail's pace at which you progress, you really get to take it in too.

The dialogue and writing are particularly strong, even if there are some regrettable, yet authentic racial overtones to the script. Vito and Joe are two very likable protagonists, and their genuine exchanges are a welcome aural experience, even if you are only driving at 30 miles per hour. The soundtrack is full of jazz, big bands and amusing World War II announcements. The only gripe I have with it is that music tracks are repeating after less than 10 minutes behind the wheel. Speaking of behind the wheel, I've spent an awful long time driving as well, and old-timey cars are slow!

I will state for the record, that I have so far thoroughly enjoyed Mafia II. I would argue however that the demo was a little misleading. It was all guns, explosions and John Lee Hooker. For those of you that haven't played through the demo, after an intense series of firefights and a violent car chase, players are treated to a trailer with "Boom Boom," accompanying the action. After this sample, I was under the impression that it would be all booze (distilleries), bullets and broads. Those elements are on offer in the full version, but they are being drip fed to me.

The last demo I played that sold me on a game entirely, was that for the original Bioshock. My 20 minutes in Rapture was enough to have me searching through stores on launch day for a Collector's Edition.

What was the last great demo you played?