Wednesday, March 30

Big Hurt

I'm nervous. Hell, I'm terrified. I could cut to the heart of the issue and immediately disclose what's bothering me, but first, a history lesson.

When the Xbox 360 launched in 2005, I was unimpressed. A meagre launch line-up coupled with some well-publicised technical issues led me to believe (erroneously) that Microsoft's second console would be an unmitigated failure. But then I played Dead Rising and Saint's Row, and read about the likes of Gears of War and Bioshock: it was hopeless. Within days my brother and I had purchased the console and a small library of games. We had stepped up to the next generation and abandoned our loyalty to Sony.

It started off well enough. Saint's Row may have been a Grand Theft Auto clone, but it was far more purile and had some original gameplay mechanics that allowed for it to not feel entirely derivative. Dead Rising was truly grand in zombie-slaying scale and felt like something that was definitely not possible on my Playstation 2 (which was acquiring a fine veneer of dust due to neglect). I actually bought a HD TV for the release of Bioshock and to this day it remains one of my favourite games. I also invested what I would hypothesize to be hundreds of hours playing Gears of War online.

I then moved in with my then-girlfriend (now wife) and while the flow of quality releases slowed (I skipped over classics like The Orange Box, Lost Planet, Assassin's Creed however the story must progress), but I still loved my 360. We then went on holiday, and I only thought it right that my creamy white console come along for the ride. Then it happened. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

Carly and I had returned from an afternoon walk, and I started playing Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas when the screen suddenly went green. I could still make out the sprites and the outlines of structures, but this is not how the game was supposed to look (and yes I made sure I wasn't wearing night vision goggles!). I promptly turned off the machine, and didn't turn it on again until we got home. After setting the machine up and pressing the power button, three of the console's power lights emitted a bright red glow. I had become one of the countless victims of the Red Ring of Death. I didn't suffer alone either; between my brother, two friends and I, we had lost ten consoles in total to the RRoD.

Why the history lesson? Well tomorrow sees the launch of the Nintendo 3DS and things are looking shaky. Instead of the RRoD, early adopters have been subject to the Black Screen of Death which is not necessarily a system killer, but it is appearing often enough to have me shit-scared. Apparently there is a system update ready to be applied, and the problem does not often render the system completely unplayable; but it is still cause for concern.

Have I just three hundred dollars on another heartbreaker? Have you guys ever had a console die on you?

Sources: Kotaku, Eurogamer, Gamespot

Monday, March 28

In case you haven’t played it: Killzone 3 Review (PS3)

Killzone 2 was one of the strongest releases of 2009. The premier first-person cover shooter called for a more methodical approach to firefights, introduced a gripping (though bleak) setting, and featured several challenging boss fights. The visuals were some of the best to be seen on current generation hardware, and the multiplayer action demanded hours of investment. Two years on, and comparions between Killzone 3 and its forebear are inevitable. Sev and (unfortunately) Rico are once again tasked with bringing down the Helghast threat, only this time a political element is introduced in an attempt to give some depth to the enemy. It doesn't work, and while Killzone 3 is a good game in its own right; it's nowhere near as impressive as the last instalment in the series.

The Good
Beautiful place to die - Planet Helghan is a dangerous place, yet some of her lands are hauntingly beautiful to behold. Whether it be the raging, icy seas or the glowing, lethal forests: almost every location in Killzone 3 is a fitting place to meet your end (and you will meet it repeatedly). Save for some minor clipping issues during heated firefights, Killzone 3 manages to be as beautiful as its predecessor.

More flexible - I really enjoyed Killzone 2's heavy brand of shooting, however the new Jack in town has ditched the somewhat unwieldy movement mechanics in favour of a lighter, speedier feel. Both the old and new flavours are equally pleasant for the virtual gun-nut as far as I'm concerned. The former may have felt more original and more organic given both the Helghast and ISA's preference for bulky armour and weapons; but this more fluid iteration of the first-person cover shooter works well too.

In the trenches - Speaking of the first-person cover shooter, the action in Killzone 3's campaign is always heated, always loud, and will always keep you on the edge of your seat. The PS3 Killzone games punish the careless charge more than any other sci-fi shooter on the market, and there is nothing more satisfying than advancing on an exhausted enemy. There were some points in later levels where cover didn't seem to provide the protection it should have. Worse yet, on higher difficulty settings there were many scenarios where I would swear my view was completely obscured by my source of cover, but I still took damage. Sometimes lethal amounts of damage. When it works: it's brutal, methodical fun. When it doesn't work: it's brutally frustrating.

High Class - While the single player campaign fails to meet expectations, the multiplayer suite in Killzone 3 is sure to keep players entertained for a while. If (and this is a very big if) you haven't spent a lot of time with its precursor, that is. There have been some tweaks made to the classes, and the new style of play has made the transition to online as well. Another addition comes in the form of EXO mechs (and jetpacks) to certain multiplayer maps; and while they are far from invincible, it is fun to siege an enemy foothold with these heavily-armoured vehicles. All of this praise aside, some of the tweaks to the class system are just plain baffling: like the requirement to unlock a secondary weapon. I can understand having to unlock some of the more devastating sidearms, but I much preferred to spend my unlock points on more essential playthings.

Operations Mode - Also new to multiplayer is the Operations Mode, which is much like Invasion from Halo: Reach or Assault from Unreal Tournament where an attacking team tries to capture strategic targets in sequence while the defending team (obviously) attempts to halt their progress. The top three performers in each team are featured in mini-cutscenes whenever an objective is achieved; which is great if you're on the winning side and some form of back-handed compliment if you're not. Unfortunately, there are only three maps to play through at launch, but it is still a worthwhile addition to the suite.

My eyes! - The most visceral addition to the action both on and offline is the Brutal Melee attack. If you can get close enough to your opponent, you can perform the attack which features a random animation that involves anything from forcing your opponents eyes into their skull, to plunging a knife in their throat. This is war at its most vicious.

Offline - While I haven't spent much (read: any) time with the offline multiplayer, you can play through the campaign with a friend in splitscreen. The addition of Botzone also allows players to engage in multiplayer battles against bots in any of the game maps and modes, with all class abilities and weapons unlocked. While this isn't really for me, it is great to see a developer affording more options to the offline gamer.

The Bad
What just happened? - Killzone 3's plot jumps across space and time with no sense of purpose. I'll forget about the moustachioed Helghast leaders who often pluck at their beards and furrow their brows. I'm more concerned with how the action is not only poorly paced, but punctuated with nothing of substance. Just when you think you've saved the day, you end up traversing a junkyard for some reason. This facility is also a spaceport, with a (wait for it) space elevator. Another example of the Guerilla's inept narrative comes in the form of the introductory sequence. At first I thought it was cool, but when you're forced to experience it again with some added events to mess with continuity; it felt completely unneccesary. A lot of the campaign feels unncessary for that matter.

Cowboys and Indians - There were so many times throughout the campaign where I swear I'd hit any enemy with ten to twenty bullets, yet they refused to die. Conversely, I felt overly mortal at some points throughout the game, as often the enemy knew exactly where I would be approaching from before I even saw them. In one sequence in particular, which tasks players from escaping from an offshore rig within a short time limit, sometimes the enemy would be laying fire on my next intended location before they had even seen me. Why they suddenly abandoned all regard for their escape was beyond me, but I know that I got pretty f***ing tired of repeating that segment. The whole jetpack sequence for that matter was nowhere near as fun as it should have been.

Doctor Death- Also new to this instalment is the ability for your AI compatriots to revive you. If your partner is too busy fighting, they will often forget to rescue you. They also seem to be subject to an interesting rule set that determines whether or not you're too far gone to be revived. Usually if I was to fall more than three times before a checkpoint, Rico/Narville would state that I was beyond saving. I know that I should probably crave more challenge: but if the ability is there for me to be revived, the AI should do it regardless of how many times I manage to find myself incapacitated. Either that, or remove the option altogether.

Been there - Killzone 3 has shipped with what is honestly, an insufficient amount of maps when compared to the competition. Eight are on the disc while another two (classics from Killzone 2) are offered via paid DLC. Worse still, not all maps are available in all modes and perhaps even more troubling: try and find a Warzone match that is not being played in Salamun Market. I f***ing dare you! I also found myself connecting to plenty of quiet matches. Quiet as in two or three players in a game, myself included. Funnily enough, a match doesn't end; meaning that those more unscrupulous players (like myself) can earn some big points with little to no resistance.

The Ugly
Done that - As above, Killzone 3's multiplayer suite is sure to keep players entertained for hours, so long as they haven't spent any time with it's predecessor. Having reached the rank cap of General when KZ2 was first released, there is very little that feels genuinely new here that I can engage with. After about three hours of play, I can say that I am almost done with this game.

Rico - Very few characters have the potential to derail a game or a series quite like Sergeant Rico Velasquez. In the final hours of the previous instalment, I wanted nothing more than to dispatch this foul-mouthed, aggravating companion for his constant assault on my ears. Imagine my despair when he is brought along for the third game in the series. Worse yet, he saves your life and is the centre of the game's aimless narrative. His constant conflict with your commanding officer is also cause for aural discomfort. There is so much sexual tension between Rico and Narville that I just wish they would get a room and sort it out. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but ultimately the player character, Sevchenko essentially tells these two testosterone-filled dinosaurs to do exactly that.

Worst shotgun ever - No shotgun will ever compare to the boomsticks from Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but that doesn't mean that Guerilla had to nerf their own to the point of redundancy. Most of the weapons are pretty ineffective in the campaign, for that matter. Further to that, there doesn't seem to be any preamble or ceremony to accompany their acquisition. You just happen across it when the developers feel like it. The only weapon that has any kind of introduction is the Arc Cannon, and the novelty of popping enemies wears off reasonably quickly.

Is this it? - During the final mission, several times I remember hearing Narville say "This is it," only to find that it wasn't "it," at all. Guerilla shows a complete lack of regard for pacing. I thought the game should have ended about two hours before I was finally put out of my misery (and it was only about seven hours long). Most of the final act is completely unenjoyable for that matter, with the final vehicle sequence producing many unexplainable deaths. I mean just plain baffling deaths, as there was no indication that I was in any danger. I can't even remember seeing the enemy fighters launching any form of attack, but I would perish all the same.

The Verdict
7.0/10 - Killzone 3 is a powerfully disappointing experience. A great game, but still underwhelming considering the strength of its predecessor. Yes, Killzone 2 was bleak, but it featured a consistently engaging battle against a ruthless enemy; as well as a thrilling, more thoughtful, class-based alternative to Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Killzone 3's campaign was all action with no discernable consequences. There doesn't have to be a winner, but some form of meaningful resolution to the campaign would have been thoroughly appreciated. The multiplayer suite while enjoyable, does not feature enough significant changes or additions to stand up against the competition (at least in the short term). Guerilla appears to have stripped the franchise of its point of difference, leading to a title that, while entertaining, fails to stand tall amongst a crowded FPS market.

Dutch Note: You could add a point to the score if you never took Killzone 2 online. Apart from the jetpacks and EXO mechs, there is not much that has been added to the multiplayer formula that feels subtantial, or successful.

Friday, March 25

The Shape Of Things To Come

Through the week I attended a conference on the future of marketing, media and advertising. It was all very interesting to hear what industry heavy weights thought of the ever changing media landscape, with talks of digital media beginning to step up to take a more prominent position in a brand’s marketing strategy.

As you would expect, there was a lot of ‘iPhone this’ and ‘iPad 2 that’ when all of a sudden an interesting fact was brought to light: The sales of Smartphone’s have now exceeded the sales of PCs.

This was predicted some time ago but what does it mean? It means people are opting to use the Internet on mobile devices, enjoying the simplicity and portability offered by a smaller device. People are asking for more out of their phone and technology is able to answer the call (so to speak).

Some reporters are claiming it is the future of gaming too, with mobile devices now predicted to kill the console.

The comment actually stems from a panel conversation as SXSW last week whereby Rovio Head of Business Development, Peter Vesterbacka, said that, “Innovation in gaming has clearly moved into mobile and social”.

He also mentioned that console games are dying because people are tired of spending big money on games that are all hype and no substance.

Mr Vesterbacka has a good point considering Rovio is the company behind Angry Birds and has made a fortune from sales of the game.

Angry Birds costs $0.99 to buy, cost Rovio $140,000 to develop and has pulled in close to $70 million. In comparison to Grand Theft Auto 4 which sold for $60 at launch* and cost Rockstar $100 million to make.

The margins involved don’t allow console games to evolve and innovate, unlike those created by mobile devices.

Personally I feel like the games on mobile devices are juvenile. I don't mean that in a 'you have to be three to appreciate them' kind of way, I just think they are basic. The hottest mobile games might be fun for a while but they don't last long. Some are quite innovative with their use of touch technology but that doesn't make them better than a console.

Sure they can be entertaining but no mobile game will ever engage me or capture my attention like a PC or console game. They might be useful when you are stuck in traffic or out shopping with the missus but in no way are they a substitute for real games.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the console is on its way to the big media room in the sky? Can you think of an example of a mobile game you would prefer to play over a console game?

 *This doesn’t sound right but the article I pulled it from is from the UK so I’m assuming it’s just a lazy reporter using dollar signs instead of pounds. Either that or shoddy reporting. I don’t know I just find stuff to write about.

Wednesday, March 23

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

Homefront is supposed to provide a chilling glimpse of a future where North Korea expands upon the rise to power of Kim Jong Il's son, Kim Jong Un.  The new leader unifies North and South Korea before expanding to Eastern Asia and eventually, the economically-decimated United States of America. As Robert Jacobs, a former pilot, you are escorted thoughout Montrose, Colorado by a resistance movement that is attempting to procure supplies for the US Army. You'll encounter plenty of atrocities along your journey, instigated both by the Korean invaders and the lawless survivors scattered across the state. The game also (apparently) features a multiplayer suite that can support up to thrity-two players. I could connect to no more than a hand full of matches, after several attempts and over two hours spent in lobbies.

The Good
Freedom - When you do manage to sink your teeth into Homefront's multiplayer component, you'll find an interesting new approach to the usual Team Deathmatch and Domination (dubbed Ground Control) matches found in recent Call of Duty titles. The addition of vehicles and drones being the most notable difference, however there is also an in-game economy which provides added depth and in some cases, bemusement. To clarify the latter assesssment, you customize classes (once again, a la COD). Within these classes you can assign weapons and equipment to purchase slots. Once you've earned enough Battle Points (through kills and achieving objectives), you can then purchase the goodies you assigned to afformentioned slots. The real-world logistics of this would be baffling to say the least. I can just imagine a commanding officer saying something like "Don't forget your pack soldier, and don't dare use the rocket launcher until you've killed at least four Koreans. You've got to earn the right to use everything you're given in this army!"

Outside of the box - The maps I managed to play on were all huge. You always spawn close to the action (sometimes a little too close), so you never spend too much time in transit. The maps here were built for large-scale warfare, and if you love sniping or vehicular combat (and most importantly, if you can find a match): Homefront is the game for you. 

Stable - I'm struggling to think of any more purely redeeming features that I found in this title. I guess the single player campaign was technically sound in that it never froze and load times were acceptable. That's about it.

The Bad
Dumbass friends - Your AI-controlled companions are not only prone to getting in your way, they're also terrible shots. Sometimes they would obstruct my path at critical times, particularly when I was seeking cover and just about to die. What was worse than the sub-normal intelligence of my compatriots was the near suicidal tendencies of the enemy. Even as my comrades advanced into strategic positions, the Korean threat was concerned only with my demise. They would rush at me, or at the very least focus fire on my position with little regard for the other enemies in their midst.

Lack of ceremony - Pretty much every FPS released in the past five years has employed the bloody screen technique to indicate the level of damage a player takes: Homefront is no different in this respect. What bugs me about this game though, is that it fails to adequately pace the action. Even if you take sufficient damage to be near death, you'll recover in no less than three seconds. What this means is that you can breeze through most sections of the campaign on the default difficulty without much hassle. Sure you'll still die a few times, but save for the penultimate stage - which features the most reality-defying vehicle sequence in videgame history - you'll rarely encounter anything that you could diagnose as a challenge.

Ugly ahead of its time - 2011 has so far seen the release of some truly visually-spectacular games. Homefront is not one of them. The visuals are beyond dated: with washed-out, blocky textures and awkward looking character models. The environments often look as though they are held behind a soft veneer, and if you focus on details (say for instance, with a scoped rifle), the rough edges really start to show. The only positive observation that I can impart about the game's visuals is that the frame-rate holds up immaculately. Same can be said for the multiplayer as well. Solid frame rate, but that shouldn't really be considered an achievement given the horrid nature of the visuals in general.

Off key - Everything in Homefront sounds off. Whether it's the melee attack that sounds like a toddler clashing pots together, or the guns that sounds as though they've been fired from under a mass of towels: the game's sound design misses every note. The score while competent, fails to rise above action movie mediocrity; if anything it becomes grating after a while.

The Ugly
Premature end - Homefront's single player campaign clocks in at about three and a half hours (four maximum). That's ridiculously short, even by modern FPS campaign standards. As glad as I was for the experience to end, the final mission feels like the perfect precursor to a more significant victory; but it never goes there. I felt as though I achieved less than nothing playing through Homefront's sub-par campaign.

Schlock horror - What's worse than the insufficient campaign length is that most of the experience is hopelessly derivative. Despite the presence of Korean flags, the game isn't entirely disimilar to the invasion segment from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Sure the enemy may be better established in this instance, but either way it feels like heavily trodden ground. Everything about this game resembles action/war movie cliche. Including the use of mass graves - something so horrible in concept that it should never appear overly familiar - is dealt with in a contrived manner, reminding me of a scence from the hapless action flick, Behind Enemy Lines. The HUD is almost identical to that found in a Call of Duty title, even down to the crosshairs for the underbarrel grenade launcher. Homefront is a soulless duplicate of the genre's top dog.

On hold - I've read plenty of Homefront's redeeming multiplayer suite however, I have so far been unable to engage with it for a significant amount of time. To be entirely honest I've only been able to connect to about five matches after two hours spent waiting in lobbies. The matches were reasonably enjoyable, and hint at some promise hidden behind a myriad of logistical issues. By that I mean, matches for the Team Deathmatch and Ground Control playlists can only begin once you have sixteen players in a lobby. In one instance I waited for over thirty minutes to hit the required quota of players as the lobby swayed between ten to fifteen players. Funnily enough, while the maps are quite large, I would think they would be just as playable with as little as eight to twelve players; particularly when you consider that players can employ vehicles and drones that can traverse the maps at a respectable pace. You can of course join the Skirmish playlist which has a sixteen player limit, and this allowed me to log some game time. Nevertheless, I've spent about two hours waiting with an hour fighting. To make matters worse, I've endured several system freezes while trying to connect to multiplayer lobbies (six at last count). This is nothing less than unacceptable.

The Verdict
4.0/10 - While technically playable (the single player campaign, that is), Homefront lacks a single thread of originality. The marketing material being circulated for this game may lead you to believe that you'll be encountering an imaginative tale, or at least something unfamiliar in terms of art direction: any such assertion will lead you to disappointment. The multiplayer segment while promising needs several logistical changes in order to become playable. It is entirely deplorable that one can spend about twice more time in a lobby then you will actually playing the game. I would strongly suggest that you avoid the Playstation 3 version of this game. If you're interested in the multiplayer portion, then I would recommend that you perhaps look at the PC or 360 releases (I can't vouch for numbers, but I would imagine that they would have to be better than that currently playing on the PS3).

Monday, March 21

The Colours

I recently spent a few hours playing deBlob 2, and while I endured some camera quirks and a fair amount of repitition, it proved to be a pleasant experience. Everything about the game, from the box art to the menus is brimming with colour. It proved to be such a welcome change of  palette and decor from Killzone 3, or pretty much any other game I've played through this year (with the sole exception of Bulletstorm). There are very few earthy or dark tones to be seen, and those that are in view can be changed to something far more vibrant with something as innocuous as player movement. The novelty wears off fast enough, but it has left me craving more colour from my gaming experiences.

Speaking of colours, Gamespot reported that THQ's stock dropped over twenty percent after Homefront's metacritic score dropped to as low as seventy-two. Initial reviews had the game sitting in the green, but not a day later it was drowning in a see of yellow (hoped you like the Metacritic pun). In an interesting article found on Bitmob, a community writer implies that journalists willing to publish favourable reviews for anticipated releases are allowed (via PR and Marketing firms) to go to print before press embargoes expire (thus affording the websites/publications these writers work for an increase in hits). While I am sure that the practice occurs, I've also made my opinions on Metacritic reasonably clear. Too add to that established position though, if you're going to use the site as your sole basis for any purchase decision then perhaps consider the following: "A game is only as good as it's worst review."

In spite of the majority of critics lambasting Homefront, it still managed to sell more than 375 thousand copies on its launch day (source: Gamespot). This is better than most games do in their first month (Alan Wake, Modnation Racers and Crackdown 2 if you're looking for examples). For me, that means that many gamers must have been interested in the premise of Homefront, even if they were influenced somewhat by early, positive reviews. I haven't read many (read: no more than one) reviews for Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, but rest assured I've already paid for the game. I've also ordered Dead or Alive: Dimensions for the 3DS. Why? Because I like fighting games, and while there is some buzz behind SSFIV, I like the premise behind DoA:D. To clarify that statement: I like the idea of beautiful, buxom, scantily-clad women fighting each other in interactive environments.

Despite how much money or press time is afforded to unscrupulous journalists, there are few writers whose opinion is actually of consequence to me. Even then if they were to attack a game that I'm interested in, odds are I'll end up buying it anyway. Why? Disposable income helps, but ultimately the choice to abandon reason is my own. If I want to experience something, I'll put the money down regardless of the opinion of the gaming media at large.

Are there any games that you have purchased in spite of wide-scale critical condemnation?

Saturday, March 19

Weekend Update: Unbearable Dutch Annual - Issue 1

Today, The Unbearable Lightness of Dutch celebrates its first birthday. That's one year, and over one hundred and fifty posts of videogame-related nonsense. Not to belittle my own work or anything, it's just that petty complaints and judgements make up the fair majority of this body of work. I've enjoyed writing almost all of it, and I will continue to commit my thoughts to this web-based papyrus.

The purpose of the blog initially, was to halt the progression of my mind to mush on account of my mind-numbing occupation. When I noticed that people were not only reading this document, but adding to it as well, I decided that I should probably take a little more pride in it. Thanks to my lovely wife (who doubles as my editor) and an old friend (who was a frequent commentor and the artist behind our banner), Unbearable Dutch felt like a genuine achievement. We then recruited another contributor, who to to this day continues to afford me Fridays and a valuable second opinion. The invitation to any budding writers out there is still open by the way: if you want to speak Dutch, drop me a line.

The last week of game time has been noteworthy. I've spent an interesting, though disappointing seven or eight hours with Killzone 3. A review will be forthcoming, but I still need to spend a bit more time with the multiplayer suite before I can make a definitive, quantitative judgement; even if it does feel as though I've been there and done that before. I also finally decided to put my new laptop to work and downloaded the Crysis 2 multiplayer demo. I was so proud of my rig, as it ran the game without any hiccups with medium settings. The experience was not completely free of wrinkles though: as the demo servers were based in the UK and US, lag was the deadliest enemy lurking through the two playable maps. That and I decided to play with an Xbox 360 controller. Sure I can't aim as true or as fast, but at least I could sprint and cloak without my fingers awkwardly drifting away from the buttons responsible for movement. I often accounted for a fair chunk of my team's death count. Luckily I had the sound turned down, so I couldn't hear what I imagine would have been a tirade from my unfortunate compatriots. Much like the Xbox 360 demo, I found myself reasonably unimpressed with what I played. That is until I Air Stomped an opponent to death, It was thing of beauty (not as beautiful as that seen in the video below, but beautiful all the same).

It can't have been all bad: after playing Crysis 2 for a sustained amount of time, I had a hankering to play the original. Considering that Crysis was released nearly four years ago, it still holds up unbelievably well. It looks amazing, even at medium settings - I tried higher, but the Qosmio then reached coffee table-searing levels of hotness. Even with the Nanosuit's abilities, the game played very similar to Far Cry (which wouldn't be entirely unexpected, given that both were developed by Crytek)  in that you traverse a beautiful island and approach combat situations with a great deal of freedom. Mind you, I can't remember grabbing people by the throat and throwing them off buildings/mountains/piers in Far Cry. Thanks to Steam, Crysis is the best 3.74 US Dollars that I have ever spent.

We've got a pretty exciting year ahead of us, with the arrival of as many as two new portable gaming systems and  a jam-packed release calendar. I'll continue to cover it as far as I can afford, and I hope you'll continue to read along with Dawson and myself. Thanks for engaging with Unbearable Dutch, and I hope you continue to do so in future.

What are you guys playing this weekend?

Friday, March 18

Rock ’Em Sock ‘Em Robots

As you may recall, I like fighting. I still haven’t started or been in a fight but I still love MMA.

One of my favourite MMA fighters was a coach on season seven of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and recently a friend was kind enough to lend me the series.

Wow. What a series.

For those of you not in the know with TUF, it’s a reality show whereby 16 cage fighters live in a house for six weeks and have to train and fight each other in order to win a three year six-figure contract with the UFC.

Series seven is the first time they changed the format so that 32 people started at the show and they all had to fight each other in order to win a place in the competition. This ensured fighters were keen to get into the house and wouldn’t pull out for some poor reason eg I haven’t seen my girlfriend in two weeks or my last fight made me bleed and now I’m not pretty (that last one didn’t happen but they are all poor excuses for experienced cage fighters).

The system worked. Everyone who got into the house delivered throughout the series, with a number of fights reminiscent of cartoons, gaming and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

Outside of UFC or TUF, never have I seen two live men pummel each other the way they do here. It’s literally like when you play Fight Night, UFC Undisputed or even Wii Sports Boxing and you go way too hard at it.

Fists would connect with heads but instead of dropping to the ground, some fighters would just shake it off virtually unphased and continue throwing punches, hungry for a win and desperate to be one step closer to winning the contract.

With this love of blood sport in mind, I’m keen to try Fighters Uncaged for the Xbox 360 Kinect. Actually I’m a little torn about the decision to try it. Like an evolved Wii Sports Boxing, Fighters Uncaged is a single player brawler that utilises the Kinect camera to fight in a 3D environment.

The camera will recognise a number of your actions and translate them into fighting moves including kicks, punches and elbows within the game.

While in concept it has the potential to be a fighting game of choice, unfortunately it has also had a large number of fairly disappointing reviews and the developer is being sued by the UFC for use of their catchphrase. Also, I’m fairly sure when Gamespot awards a game Worst Game of 2010 it’s probably not the best of titles to spend money on. Metacritic gives it an uninspiring 38. I didn’t realise games were rated this low...

For now it might be safer to stick with UFC Undisputed for a technical and visually appealing fighter, and leave Kinect and its fighting catalogue until the technology isn’t so fresh so developer.

Has anyone else tried Kinect or one of its offerings?

Wednesday, March 16

Selflessly Selfish

Dear Readers,

It's time for a little shameless advertising, but rest assured it's for a good cause. Play-Asia are currently donating proceeds from a select range of titles and accessories towards the Japan Disaster Relief appeal run by the Hong Kong Red Cross. This is a fantastic opportuinity to pick up some videogames and help those in need after the shocking events of last Friday. I would urge you to peruse the list found at the following address and see if you can not only pick up a bargain, but contribute towards what is an essential endeavour:

For those wondering, I picked up Dragon Age 2 and Homefront for less than half of the Australian recommended retail price, all the while donating eight dollars to charity. Sounds like a deal that is too ridiculously good to be true, so once again: please click on the link above and start shopping. The list of items included in the promotion is pretty strong, with critically-acclaimed, recent releases like Dead Space 2 and cuurent generation classics like Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

While it would be a lot more effective to just donate money directly to the appeal, this a great way for those as selfish as myself to get involved. Please do your part and pick up a few games too.

The response of the gaming community at large has been oustanding. Capcom are chipping in all proceeds from the sale of Street Fighter IV for iPhone (as well as reducing the price). Sony and Nintendo chipped in 300 million yen a piece, while some smaller developers have also contributed substantial amounts of cash (source: Kotaku). IGN Australia is also running a fundraising effort, playing twenty-four Japanese games in twenty-four hours to raise money for tsunami relief.

Also of note, several high profile titles have been either delayed or cancelled out of respect for those affected by the tsunami. Motorstorm Apocalypse has been delayed in both New Zealand and Japan, while titles like Disaster Report 4 were cancelled altogether (source: Kotaku). While some will be angered by the news, I know that I for one can handle not playing a brutally-difficult racer with questionable physics for a few weeks.

Even if you can't contribute yourself, spread the word. We can all make this ridiculously-heavy load just a little bit lighter for the people of Japan. Even if you do it in as selfish a way as I did.



Monday, March 14

In case you haven't played it: Marvel Vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds Review (PS3)

If you've been reading this blog for any prolonged amount of time/posts, you probably would have ascertained by this point that I have an interest in fighting games. More to the point, fighting games would constitute my favourite of all genres. Whether it be 2D, 3D, team or solo play; I've had a strong and sustained desire to play these games in arcades or, most commonly, from the comfort of my own home. The rise to prevalence of the home console and gamers' increasing preference for online play had however, seen the genre slip into near-obscurity. I'll concede that the Soul Calibur and Tekken series both had reasonably frequent releases, but any fighter focusing on the two-dimensional plane was becoming a rare find. Now we have Blazblue: Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift, the utterly forgettable King of Fighter XIISuper Street Fighter IV, a re-release of Marvel Vs Capcom 2 and now, over 10 years after the last instalment, Marvel Vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Just a forewarning: it's hard to be objective about a game that I've been anticipating since my high school years.

The Good
Diverse cast - Interesting/debatable casting choices aside, Marvel Vs Capcom 3 features a cast of thirty-two genuinely different characters. They aren't fighters that feel like they're separated only by a different paint job. Mind you, some are just flat-out terrible, while others feel a little too effective (particularly when you're on the receiving end). The more I played and the more combinations I tried, the more my preferred team changed. I never would have thought that I would end up ditching Hulk in favour of Morrigan or Haggar, but after a few fights that's exactly what happened. Further to that, I was surprised to find that the pugilistic politician (Haggar) could match some of the more colourful characters in terms of both speed and spectacle. He was a great fit, and so were some of the other more unexpected additions to the roster like Ameterasu and Dormammu. No matter what your tastes or play style, there should be several characters that will be to your liking.

Fireworks - Every bout of MvC3 is a veritable pyrotechnics display with beams, arcs and balls of light volleying across the screen with differing speeds and colours. Every sprite and move is animated with a high degree of flair and faithfulness to each character's respective source material. Dante uses an assortment of the Devil Arms and guns that he's employed throughout his adventures, spraying fire, ice, bullets and nightmare energy with his every move. Taskmaster and Deadpool mimic the moves and catch-cries of many a series favourite. Tron (Bonne) summons hundreds of adorable Servebots into battle while Phoenix engulfs the screen in flames. Every moment of MvC3 is as chaotic as it is beautiful.

New Tricks - While series staples like the Snap Back and Hyper Combos have returned, a new controller layout and some new moves await those ready to tangle with this style-heavy fighter. Instead of using punches and kicks of varying intensities, players now have three attack buttons for light, medium and heavy and a special button which acts as a launcher for Aerial Combos. The best players have already mastered the skies, and knowledge of air defence is a prerequisite if you intend to last more than a few seconds against some of the more seasoned combatants. Also new is the Advancing Guard, which acts as a sort of parry that pushes attackers back a considerable distance. There's very little opportunity to throw in an attack upon performing an Advancing Guard, but when you do pull it off, the added breathing space can sometimes change the flow of a match. Mind you, I've played some who have met every hit of a Hyper Combo with an Advancing Guard and that can be somewhat deflating (massive understatement!). MvC3 is a very different game when compared to its predecessor: its faster, its deeper, and - despite its arguably simpler control scheme - it's much harder to play effectively.

Ropes - Do yourself a favour: read the manual. It is one of the few game-related documents in recent memory that will prepare you well for the action you'll find on the game disc. Mission mode will then fill in any gaps in knowledge not covered by the manual, with 10 combos/moves to learn for each character that translate well to the action both on and offline.

License to kill - The license card systems allows players to gauge the challenge presented by online opponents with an easy to read visual guide that charts their respective play styles. You can also view win ratios, character usage data, and trophy/achievement progress. It's an effective, user-friendly way to predict how badly your ass will be handed to you.

Galactus - The final boss fight is a great improvement over Abyss from the previous instalment and matches the general action in terms of visual impact and challenge. The fate of the Earth rests in the hands of your team of three heroes/villains, and the ramifications of defeat are dire indeed.

The Bad
Balance of power - Some characters I found to be a little too fast, and way too powerful. Never one or the other, it was always both. Doctor Doom, Akuma and Magneto were the worst perpetrators, but Hulk and Sentinel are also more effective than they should be. I know that turtling is never a winning strategy (well, at least not on its own), but it is so heavily penalised in this game as block damage is far higher than that found in your average 2D fighter. Damage seemed to be doled out heavily in general for that matter, as many of my fights ended (in favour of my opponents) with a few well-timed Team Aerial Combos.

More similar than you know - While each of the characters may handle differently, their command lists are essentially the same. While this may make MvC3 a solid entry point for newcomers (particularly with the addition of Simple Mode), it does remove some of the mystique and wonder from the action. What do I mean? I can't perform pretty much any move that requires a 360 degree motion in any fighting game, so in an attempt to cater to n00bs like me, these inputs have been eschewed in favour of quarter circles. Nothing but quarter circles. This may sound nonsensical, but I appreciate not being able to pull off every move. It affords me some comfort to be bested by some freak of nature that is able to execute an Ultimate Atomic Buster on a whim.

Urkel - Quite a few times I was asking myself "Did I do that?" You could also prefix that question with how or why sometimes, as I often surprised myself with the complexity of the combos that I performed throughout my time with MvC3. Sometimes the surprise was combined with frustration as I found that the controls were a little too touchy. I would often try to vary light/medium hits to heavy specials, but this often resulted in a Hyper Combo being performed. Obviously there was not enough time between my inputs, but when I want to pull off a Hyper make no mistake, those attack buttons will be pressed at the same time.

The Ugly
Spam - I've discussed this previously, but some characters can employ some over-powered, spammable attacks. Sentinel's heavy attack is a highly-effective, long-range energy beam that can be fired reasonably quickly. To illustrate just how deadly this spammable move was, my wife came from 2 fighters down to almost defeat my far more experienced brother just by pressing the heavy attack button repeatedly. It was almost laughable how a normally well-orchestrated offence was undone by the one attack recycled ad nauseum.

Sentinel spam is a popular topic on YouTube at the moment.

I like to watch - There is no ability to watch online fights. When joining an eight player lobby, the most one can do to gauge the flow of a match is watch the steadily decreasing life bars at the edge of the lobby screen (that and the flaccid clashing of license cards). Only the most patient of fighters (read: no one) would be prepared to sit in the desolate lobby area waiting to be called upon to fight.

Shakey Dog - While there some positive signs initially, MvC3 offers some fairly inconsistent online play in terms of connection quality. For the first few matches I would have said that one in three would be subject to near-unplayable levels of lag, now it's nearing about fifty percent of matches played. Sometimes lag works in your favour with opponents not able to react to Hyper Combos and Crossover Combinations. More often than not the result is missed inputs and profuse amounts of frustration. When you find a good match, it's as enjoyable as any of its competitors. Add lag and the whole experience falls apart.

Slide show - Despite the flamboyance of the action, the reward for finishing the game is a lacklustre slide show with text for the character who lands the winning blow on Galactus. Even Street Fighter II treated players to animated endings, so the complete lack of effort in this respect is beyond disappointing. The lack of unlockable content in general is source for even further regret. There may be four unlockable characters, but you'll have them selectable within an hour of play. I miss the days of having to invest thirty hours or more to access all that a fighting game had to offer.

My place or yours? - While it is not really fair to level this criticism on MvC3 alone, fighting games are at their best when your opponent is sitting right next to you. As I live more than hour's drive from most of my friends, the chance to partake in this competitive ritual is becoming all the more infrequent. Online play is nowhere near as intense or visceral as destroying the person found on the adjacent chair. This is not necessarily an indictment of MvC3 alone, but of the genre at large.

The Verdict
7.0/10 - Marvel Vs Capcom 3 never had a chance of living up to a decade's worth of expectation. Not to say that there isn't to be fun found in the third instalment (far from the truth), there just seemed to be a few frustrations that at times detracted from the experience. The action is fast, frantic and gorgeous to behold. When played with friends (in the same room), MvC3 is just as enjoyable as any fighter on the market today. The game is at its best when you experiment with characters and strategies, but don't expect to learn in the midst of battle (at least not online). If you're not in the company of friends, hit the Training mode and activate Fight Request for the best results.

This is another great fighter that is worthy of its lineage, it does appear however as though there are some issues and exploits that could affect this game in the long term. There are certainly enough niggles to force me into an early retirement from MvC3.

Thursday, March 10

Go Speed Racer

This week I was lucky enough to embark on an adventure my piddly wage and expenses would never afford – I was invited to the Porsche Sport Driving School for a day of driving.

By all accounts it was amazing. I got to drive seven different cars from the 2.5 tonne Panamera saloon to the sexy and quick (oh so quick) 911 Turbo. We were given professional instruction by current Porsche Team drivers about how to best drive around the tailored circuit, as well as how to understand over and understeer.

How did they teach us this? By putting us in the $200,000 Carrera S and Cayman S and telling us to flog them on an extremely wet skidpan. Getting sideways in any car is a great feeling, but when it’s a Porsche, it’s not yours and you know you aren’t going to get cozy with a guy named Bubba for your exploits, it’s just that little bit better. 

I’ve never had more fun getting into an uncontrolled spin or hearing expensive gears crunching (that was my boss. I call her Lady Driver).

Further to this we tested the ABS on a Boxster, Carrera and Cayenne, learning how to deal with emergency braking and witnessing the awesome stopping power of decent brakes. Basically, we accelerated hard then braked harder, almost sending the nose of each car down into the ground. After this exercise the area reeked of burning brakes and rubber, a smell one isn’t usually smiling about.

To finish the day we were given the chance to race the other participants in a time trial circuit marked out by cones. This was, quite frankly, the balls. Although there was only one person racing at a time, the adrenaline rush was like no other.

The thrill of speed mixed with the fear of soul crushing taunts brought on by time penalties will be a hard feeling to shake.

And now for the gaming content...

To prepare for the day, I thought what better than to get some racing experience under my belt. Rather than take the Astra Martin (champagne dreams, tap water budget) for a spin in the wet, I decided to play a little PGR4.

This is definitely my favourite racing game of all time. Unlike Forza 3 or Gran Tourismo, it’s not complicated or ultra realistic and it’s not too basic like Midnight Club or Need For Speed. You get high end cars and bikes, they look sexy and you experience a feeling of speed. On top of that it has a pretty awesome soundtrack and a cool feature that gives you points for driving dangerously.

Not only that, the environments are spectacular, accurately creating weather effects and world famous landmarks and cities such as London, St Petersburg and Las Vegas. It’s real enough to keep you entertained, but not so real that you need to concern yourself with tyre pressures, panel damage or worrying how a pidgeon pooping on your rear wing will effect down force and top end speed variables.

Whilst many good racing games are available on the market, PGR4 has always been the benchmark for me. The only game to come close to topping it was Burnout Revenge. Unfortunately for the Burnout Series, this is where they peaked, with Burnout Paradise being too big an environment for me to truly enjoy the rough, fast paced racing I loved in Revenge. 

I’m sure many of you are thinking my criteria for judging games is a little odd, especially with many other great racing offerings available but I just can’t get into the full on, hardcore racing simulators. I play games to escape reality, not to get stressed over an alternate one.

If I have the option to monitor gauges and listen to pit crews OR instigate a crash and cause $5.6 million in damages, I’m going to choose the latter. Why? Because I can listen to people hassle me about my driving any day of the week, I can’t get away with causing accidents.

Anyway, I was playing PGR4 to try and improve my driving ability. If you ever have the chance to go to the Porsche Sport Driving School (I highly recommend it), don’t bother playing games the night before - it doesn’t help. The real question is will my new skills help me become a better video game racer?

The answer is no. I still suck.

Have you done anything out of the ordinary lately and hoped your gaming skills will transfer?

Wednesday, March 9

In case you haven’t played it: Bulletstorm Review (X360)

Bulletstorm chronicles the adventures and scoring habits of foul-mouthed, intergalactic space pirate, Grayson Hunt. Cornered and exhausted, Hunt and his Dead Echo teammates plunge their ship into that of their enemies, leading each to crash-land on the prison/resort/mining planet of Stygia, where gangs of deranged settlers have laid waste to every club, resort and facility that players will encounter. Driven by a desire to clear his name and avenge his compatriots, Hunt and his companion, Ishi attempt to intercept their marooned former commanding officer, General Serrano. There's about six to seven hours worth of narrative exposition (and gameplay) to wade through, and I won't spoil anymore of it for you. The game also features an abundance of coarse language, and the ability to bring death to your enemies in literally hundreds of different ways. It's easy to lose sight of the storyline in the midst of all the vulgar dialogue and ridiculous violence. With that being said, Bulletstorm is at its best when the forgettable plot falls to the wayside through the gratuitous language and violence.

Bulletstorm's core gameplay revolves around Skillshots, which are awarded and scored when the player dispatches their opponents in increasingly sophisticated ways. Headshots are great, but it's better when you slide kick an enemy into mid-air and shoot their head clean off. Every time you come across a "dropkit," you're afforded the chance to not only restock on vital supplies and upgrade weapons, but also read clues on how to perform new Skillshots depending on your progress through the story and the equipment you've acquired. Performing Skillshots earns you points to spend on ammo and upgrades, forcing you to get those murderously-creative juices flowing. Over the course of my playtime I unlocked over seventy-five percent of these inventive scenarios, and while most of them are obvious, there are few that don't draw a wry smile; even after multiple views. Key to many of these Skillshots is the leash, which can be charged with a Thumper attack which sends all nearby enemies soaring into the air (it even suspends them for a short period of time). You can also use the leash to pull enemies toward you for a close-up kill, or you can opt to kick them away and set up some of the more elaborate kills.

Despite the regrettable story that fails to capitalise on the bat-shit crazy action, the campaign in Bulletstorm ranks amongst the more enjoyable in recent memory. The dialogue may begin to exhaust most after the better part of an hour, but the set pieces and gameplay in general elevate the action above the standard FPS fare. Everything about Bulletstorm is huge, grandiose even. There are several memorable boss fights, and plenty of enemies to kill, but it's the environments that make this game. Whether you're destroying imposingly-large mining equipment (and then trying to escape as it collapses), or battling magnificent (and ugly) creatures with a mounted gun on a helicopter: Bulletstorm delivers big action, and on occasion, big laughs too. The selection of weapons and equipment are also worthy of praise. Each gun features an alternate fire mode that allows for more creativity on the battlefield. The pistol doubles as a flare gun, the sniper rifle can be charged with explosive, guided bullets. The Bouncer - which was by far, my favourite weapon - shoots cannonballs that when charged, can be kicked and leashed around the screen to pick up more kills. Bulletstorm's standard action is anything but standard, and calls for creative solutions to some hilariously-violent situations.

Even with all of the over-the-top action depicted on screen, the frame rate never dips, and nor does the quality. The only blemishes appear when you look at human characters up close, as their faces look like they are covered in Vaseline. Otherwise, Bulletstorm will constantly surprise on account of the multiple character models on screen, impressive effects, and stunning environments. It is the best-looking game since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. It's just incredibly unfortunate that something so beautiful has the mouth of a drunken sailor. I'm not just talking about the gratuitous language either. The only sounds that Bulletstorm makes are coarse. From General Serrano's unbelievably-foul mouth to the constant assault of the game's power chord-heavy score: it's what lies beneath the pristine veneer that makes the biggest impression.

With that being said though, the "Echoes," mode is exactly that. Made up of some of the more unspectacular segments from each the game's chapters but minus the dialogue, the Echoes are a diluted and unnecessary venture into score-attack gameplay. I know this may sound somewhat contradictory, but without the cussing and the boss fights, and the absence (for lack of a better word) of hugeness, the Echoes are a hollow representation of the core action found in Bulletstorm's brilliant campaign. Most perplexing of all is that the Echo featured in the downloadable demo featured all of the scripted dialogue from the campaign, whereas in the retail product it is stripped to a muted, unenjoyable race against the clock.

What's worse though is the mutiplayer "Anarchy," mode. The idea behind it is solid. Basically, you and three other players are placed in a small play area littered with plenty of Skillshot-friendly props, and you work together to attain a target score upon either killing a certain amount of enemies or the time limit expiring. Problem is though, I could not find a single match with a solid connection. Funnily enough, I received a constant reminder that I had a "BAD CONNECTION," to every single game I joined. This text prompt never disappeared (from centre-screen, no less); as if the skipping character models weren't a strong enough indicator that I was a proverbial leper amongst the kings.

I know that I've discussed the redundancy of the term "replayability," previously, but Bulletstorm is almost completely devoid of replay value. You could opt to play through the entire campaign again, and that may be fun enough for you; but the Echoes and Anarchy modes were near complete failures. If I could find a solid match perhaps, my opinion would mellow somewhat. For now though, the game doesn't realise its true potential.

7.5/10 - Bulletstorm is a fantastic FPS that introduces some original concepts and weapons that should be experienced by anyone with a penchant for virtual firearms. The campaign is a set of brilliant action sequences punctuated by some of the most disgusting (though often amusing) dialogue to be found in a videogame. As fantastic as the single player campaign mode is, the other parts of the package don't quite measure up to the ridiculously-enjoyable standard set by Grayson Hunt's quest for revenge/redemption in its entirety.

Monday, March 7

Rear-View Mirror - An Exercise In Catching Them All

It's now mere weeks before a Nintendo 3DS is delivered to my door. With each passing day, my anticipation grows considerably. Not because of any of the impending launch titles mind you, no. The reason I'm dying for my shiny blue console to be delivered is simple: I get to play Pokemon once again.

Some of you may roll your eyes and question the validity of a title such as Pokemon Black to someone of my age. Yes it may be primarily targeted at children, and it may be a grind-heavy RPG; but in what other game can you train a dragon? Or a mouse that harnesses electricity for that matter? None. No other. Pokemon was the first dragon/electric mouse/rock monster training simulator; and it is still the best.

I haven't engaged with any of the DS entries, but I've been riding these pint-sized monsters since the days of the Gameboy. Not that I owned a Gameboy. Instead, I used an emulator which really helped with the grinding aspect on account of the ability to accelerate gameplay. I completed Pokemon Blue with ease, (twice from memory) choosing Squirtle on each playthrough. It may not have looked too good blown-up on my SVGA monitor, but it captured my imagination and consumed many hours of my early teen years. Apart from a predisposition towards Squirtle and the TV series' moniker-spouting mascot, Pikachu, I can't really remember too much of what happened. I made a lot of monsters faint. Presumably a reaction to the unbearable cuteness of my Pikachu, whom I had creatively named, Pikachu.

I didn't play any of the other Gameboy instalments, waiting patiently for the release of the Gameboy Advance SP and Pokemon Sapphire. I can still remember the acquisition of my first Nintendo console. Faced with my first weekend alone with my first girlfriend (in her house no less), I needed something to occupy the late hours that I knew I would be spending alone. With no console in the house, I had to take action; purchasing a blue SP from Toys R' Us during my lunch break on the day before my romantic excursion. Along with the portable, I purchased both Metroid Fusion (freaking awesome, for anyone wondering) and Pokemon Sapphire (Ruby would not have matched my console's finish). Needless to say, I spent more time training Pokemon than I did with the lady. Love doesn't always conquer all.

Shit got crazy during my second dalliance with Pokemon. One of my best friends and I dueled regularly upon purchasing a third-party GBA link cable. He often bested me thanks to my reliance on Fighting Type monsters, but my Kyogre (an ice whale!) always put in a respectable showing. We even became  embroiled in the Pokemon Trading Card Game, with our bouts being supervised by Sammy the cat (RIP). Ours was a deep, if fleeting love of the pocket monsters.

While I have owned a DS (two, for the record), I have yet to play any of the current generation Pokemon titles. This would be on account of both my current allergy to grinding, and my inability to effectively budget during my university study. Pokemon Black (or White, not sure which to go with at the moment) will change all of that, and one of two outcomes are likely:
  1. I learn the harsh lesson that Pokemon games have gone the way of the Murtaugh. Meaning of course that "I'm getting too old for this shit."
  2. I overcome my grinding allergy and rediscover my lover of brutally subduing pocket-sized monsters and become Pokemon League Champion.
Have you ever been sucked into a Pokemon game? Is anyone else looking forward to brutally domesticating some pocket-sized monsters? What did you play over the weekend?

Dutch Note: Last night I pre-ordered the Hero Edition of Infamous 2. May not sound like big news, but I placed my order for the paltry sum of $116.95 from JB Hi-Fi's online store. Considering that it will retail for $198, you may want to jump on this deal now.

Friday, March 4

The Power of Spam

Marvel Vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is a game that allows players to pit teams of popular superpowered comic book and videogame characters against each other. After playing a few matches online, I've come to the conclusion that some of my human opponents have developed their own unique talent: spamming. Spamming projectile moves with unbalanced (that's right!) characters like Sentinel and Trish to the point where I almost hurled my controller against the wall. Actually, my hand-eye coordination isn't so hot; so it would probably end up hitting the TV.

Granted I haven't played that many matches as of yet, but on two incredibly-frustrating occassions, a human-controlled Sentinel filled the screen with yellow light and left me completely unable to counter the assault. My luck didn't fare much better against one of the more questionable additions to the roster, Trish from the Devil May Cry franchise. Her multipronged projectile attack overwhelmed all but Ryu, who is proving to be far stonger than his Marvel Vs Capcom 2 predecessor.

Some changes are being made to my preferred team. Dante has been ditched in favour of Captain America. Sure Dante may be able to mix it up with various different specials, but most take their sweet time to deliver damage. Wolverine is solid, and fast, but is susceptible to being spammed by projectiles; so his days may be numbered. Ryu is safe. He is fast, strong, and has a solid defensive game. Hulk is surprisingly quick, but entirely unpredictable. He is also highly prone to being countered out of a match. I still have a lot of research to do.

I've tried some of the wackier characters, and none of them are constituents of a cup of tea that I can see myself drinking. Arthur for instance: he is fast, has a diverse array of projectile attacks and dashes. Still can't fight worth a damn with him though. She Hulk, who is perhaps the greatest surprise of all: fast, bounces all over the screen and packs quite a punch. When she connects. Seriously, she bounds from side to side with Hyper Combos that can very easily miss the mark. Then there is X-23: I have no idea what to do with her at all. I will not be selecting her in competitive play, that is for sure.

To be entirely honest, I am not enjoying Marvel Vs Capcom 3 much at all. I've read plenty about how button-bashers won't achieve much, but that is complete bullshit. I've pressed a sequence of buttons one time and fired death all over the screen, and suffocated my opponents with flurries of light hits. Press the same sequence again, and I'll perform a nice, slow uppercut that leaves me wide open to a Hyper Combo or aerial assault. The controls are way too sensitive, making the "new," Mission Mode an exercise in frustration. I might be giving myself a little too much credit, but I know I pressed the right fucking buttons; so why are you doing a completely different move, Deadpool?

Probably the hardest thing for me to accept is that every character's move inputs are almost entirely identical. No charges. No half circles. Not even double quarters. Most of the characters may play differently (as in timing/feel) from the rest of the roster, but you'll still know how to perform each of their attacks.

Is anyone else a little underwhelmed by MVC3? What are you playing this weekend?

Wednesday, March 2

Potty Mouth

In 2010, we saw some examples of great stories saving titles with unexceptional gameplay. Mafia II and Alan Wake were rescued from the depths of mediocrity by compelling narratives that overshadowed their derivative game design and/or direction (in Mafia II's case at least).

Compared to the above, Bulletstorm is of the opposite school. This is an exceptionally enjoyable game, tainted by a simplistic plot and puerile language. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the dialogue initially. After a while though, it all started to head into territory far north of ridiculous, with female protagonist, Trishka threatening:

"Come any closer and I'll kill your dick!"

Of course, the central character asks what that really means (as did I), but why work so hard to convince players that this game isn't as complex as it really is? You could of course argue that the game is satirising cliches of the FPS genre, but in the end I believe it becomes what it's trying to parody. The story, while littered with expletives, actually tries to take itself seriously; particularly towards the end. Behind the layers of vulgarity though, you'll find an intricate system that becomes all the more absorbing as the game progresses. Bulletstorm may talk like a foul-mouthed teenager, but deep-down, it's a dedicated mathematician.

Ironically though, just as the story started to turn sour the gunplay began to strengthen considerably. Once you unlock the Thumper and upgrade a few weapons; Bulletstorm is like a super-fun-happy-slide full of explosions, and consistently jaw-dropping visuals. Unless the camera zooms in on human characters, Bulletstorm is the most visually-impressive game since Uncharted 2. The humongous creatures, fountains of blood and breathtaking vistas are almost enough to warrant a purchase. Throw in the over-the-top action, and the ability to dispatch opponents in hundreds of entertaining ways, and Bulletstorm makes a convincing case for your hard-earned dollars.

If you mute it, disable subtitles and add a soundtrack of your choice, it may just be game of the year.

10 Year Wait, 2 Year Hangover
Yesterday, the postman put me out of my misery and finally delivered Marvel Vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Did Capcom ever have any chance of delivering on ten years worth of expectation? No. At least not on brief, first impressions.

Firstly, I would like to allay any concerns: the four button setup still has plenty of depth to it. I'm still having a lot of trouble figuring out which of the face buttons does what for the moment. Shit, for the first ten minutes, I didn't think you could tag out. After about an hour though, I was spamming light attacks and rediscovering some old favourites. This is probably not the for the best, as I am well on my way to neglecting three quarters of the cast. Fuck it: who needs Dante and Thor, when Wolverine and Hulk are so damned effective? Come to think of it - if you haven't read World War Hulk, do me a favour and pick it up. It is just about the best Hulk story you will ever read.

My biggest problem with MVC3 has been the hangover from Street Fighter IV (and Super Street Fighter IV). I've only just cottoned-on to the ability to air block. I've spent the last two years thinking that jumping is tantamount to Russian Roulette. If you didn't catch your man in the air, odds are he had an ultra combo waiting for you upon your descent. I'll learn in time, and you shouldn't let my inability to adapt affect your purchase decision.

Also concerning has been my inability to find any challengers online. Granted, I am two weeks late to the party, but surely there must be someone in Australia desiring a duel? After creating my own lobby, I had no takers after ten minutes. Any attempts to find quick and/or custom matches were also met with abject failure.

Maybe it's early days, but I still can't help but feel that MVC3 isn't half as popular as it should be.

I've been asking a lot of questions. How are you guys? What are you playing this week? Also sorry for the coarse language, Bulletstorm must be rubbing off on me.

Sorry, one more question: Can someone please tell me how Mortal Kombat got banned in Australia, when Bulletstorm has been on sale for nearly one week now?