Wednesday, May 30

Max Payne 3 Review (X360): The best kind of bleak

Max Payne 3 starts with our titular hero in the throws of drug and alcohol-addled grief. Still dealing with the loss of his wife and child, players are left contemplating a broken protagonist as the scene transitions to a glitzy rooftop party in São Paolo, Brazil. A short time later, we see Max consume to the point of sickness and it becomes obvious that once the excitement stops, his self-destructive routine starts up again. Vulnerability is indulged ever so slightly in the likes of the Gears of War, Call of Duty and Battlefield series, whereas here, Max's self doubt and overwhelming sadness is present for the majority of the narrative and even bleeds into the multiplayer component. I never managed to escape the sense of impending dread that coloured every scene and shootout.

If you haven't cottoned on by now, the selling point for this game -- above all else -- is its story: a thrilling tale of repeated failure and eventual, near uncharacteristic redemption. While the game often deals with grisly events and subject matter, the technically impressive visuals and innovative presentation techniques are intoxicating. Characters animate in a way that is utterly believable, and even though I couldn't comprehend a significant portion of the script -- which is voiced and subtitled in Portuguese -- body language and tone is what becomes central to the scripted sequences. You'll be able to predict when something's about to go wrong, but never the degree to which until you open that door (which is always conveniently unlocked). There are so many memorable moments that at times had me turning away from my TV; I was dead certain one of the many characters I'd become attached to would meet a gruesome end. This is a powerful piece of storytelling that pulls few punches.

There are several reasons why this game is unsuitable for children, but most obvious of all is the explicit violence which is very rarely implied. Whether in cut scenes or in practice, Max Payne 3 will show you what bullets can do to a human being. If you shoot someone in the face, be prepared for an unprecedented level of detail (read: entry and exit wounds complete with frayed skin and plenty of blood). I almost consider this a spoiler, but you'll never forget the first time you shoot someone in the nose: the consequences of true aim have never been so brutally realised.  This is also probably the best time to mention the "Last Man Standing" mechanic from the single player modes. If you have painkillers equipped and take enough damage to die, you have a chance to kill your attacker and then recover during a slow motion fall to the ground. If you succeed, you'll see the effect of your life-saving projectile(s) up close. You can also enter Bullet Cam to watch those last few rounds enter the final thug in the room. Rockstar Games have managed to sell the pain and consequence of getting shot like nothing I've ever seen. 

While the cover system is awkward and the damage model may (read: will) cause frustration, be assured that Max Payne 3's core shooting action is just as ambitious as the story being told. When it works, it plays like the best third person shooter you'll ever play. When it doesn't, you'll be cursing your fickle frame when it survived similar encounters with nary a scratch. The novelty of Bullet-Time is still yet to erode, and jumping head first (Shootdodge) into a room full of thugs is undeniably satisfying. You'll need to match bravado with patience and caution, however, as Max is prone to dying. Puzzlingly, instead of making Max a little more resistant to pain, you're afforded extra health-recovering painkillers if you die too often. Taking cover is never a sure-fire recipe for success either, as your enemies suffer from Uncharted Syndrome (read: could hit a moving target with a pistol from two miles away). The game's staple cover shooting is infrequently punctuated by on-rails sequences of varying quality: some you'll wish were longer (airport!), while others (the helicopter sniper section comes to mind) can't end fast enough. Despite a few inconsistencies, I found it very hard to put the controller down and engage in other important activities: like sleep, for example.

For those who may be unsatisfied with the observation that the shooting in Max Payne 3 feels a little "awkward", consider this: Rockstar Games made Grand Theft Auto IV. What I mean by that of course is that the combat in GTA IV was functional, but it was never the game's strongest feature. The cover shooting in Max Payne 3 feels like a natural evolution of that found in GTA IV, and that's great; except when the combat consistently falters, you don't have an open world to explore with a wealth of different vehicles to distract you. As indicated above, I was never bothered by the steep difficulty and frequent deaths, but I can see how this would annoy others.

While the campaign is pretty meaty and offers a plethora of difficulty options, players can also get their score attack on with the Arcade and New York Minute modes. New York Minute puts the Payne in painful by giving you one minute to beat each of the game's fourteen chapters. Extra time is awarded for kills as well as bonuses for headshots and melee kills, however, there's one important catch that'll keep me from clearing this mode: death sends you back to the beginning of a level. No checkpoints, no second chances, just win or die. I'll be more inclined to stick to Story Mode as I loved the script and presentation, but for those of you who need to be at the top of the leaderboard: Max Payne 3 has something for you.

Max Payne 3 also features an addictive multiplayer component which doesn't seem to be half as popular as it should be. During some extended play sessions, I found that I was unable to find lobbies for several match types. You'll almost always be able to find a game of Team Deathmatch, but I couldn't connect to a single match of Payne Killer and only once did I get to try Gang Wars (plays like Assault from Unreal Tournament, where one team is on offense and attempts to complete objectives while the other defends). Players can customise loadouts to include anything from dual uzis, to gorilla masks and rocket launchers with one important caveat: each item has a specific weight, and depending on how much you're carrying, your stamina and health regeneration time will be affected. It's a great system that has so far managed to balance out the action. There's only a small selection of maps, but they each come in a "Large" variety that are considerably more expansive than the standard variant. There's also full support for the Rockstar Social Club including the ability to sign up with crews that allow for XP buffs when you play with fellow members. This is a fleshed-out experience that I have every intention of sticking with, however, I don't think Max Payne 3's multiplayer component will survive against a sea of CoD (see what I did there?).

I can recommend Max Payne 3 without hesitation. Its brutal, refreshingly adult narrative is something that anyone of the appropriate age -- which for the record, shouldn't be 15 -- should experience. There are inconsistencies that appear throughout the single player component, but I found it compelling and rarely frustrating. The multiplayer offering is also well worth your time, even if the majority of gamers don't seem to agree with me at the moment. Easily the best game of 2012 to date, and I have no doubt it'll survive my rigorous High Horse Audit later this year. Miss at your own peril.

Monday, May 28

Mortal Kombat Review (PSV): An uppercut to the status quo

The ninth Mortal Kombat instalment -- creatively titled, Mortal Kombat -- is an exciting rebuke to how most publishers approach the fighting game. There's no need to pay for additional characters, costumes, or online play: this is reminiscent of the fighters of old. There are some decidedly-modern additions to the formula, but the PlayStation Vita version provides a refreshing value proposition that shouldn't be ignored.

For anyone who's had experience with the home console iterations, you're bound to notice that the visuals on the portable version don't quite measure up. They're actually ugly when compared to most Vita games, all things considered. To be fair, the cut-scenes in Story Mode look great and the transitions between these segments and actual gameplay are surprisingly quick. Further to that, the lack of visual fidelity has made the X-Ray moves and Fatalities no less quease-inducing; the animation is as convincing as ever. This isn't a great looking game, but it doesn't need to be.

The viscera is the star of the show in Mortal Kombat, and save for a middling crossover with the DC Universe, it always has been. Be prepared to see plenty of intestines, acid, blood and vomit as you defend Earthrealm from the combined forces of Outworld and Netherealm. There are some cases -- Noob Saibot and Skarlet's default Fatalities come to mind -- where even those with iron stomachs will be hard-pressed not to wince or swallow bile: the violence on display is beyond explicit. While in no way suitable for children, the excessive nature of the visuals is a macabre attraction that is not only a big point of difference in terms of the genre at large, but it also holds your attention. No fighting game quite sells its sense of impact like Mortal Kombat.

Apart from some inconsistent touch controls, Mortal Kombat's core fighting action functions as per the home console versions. The Vita's d-pad is perfectly designed for fighters, meaning I had no qualms in terms of control unless I was attempting one of the more gimmicky stages on the Bonus Challenge Tower. Unfortunately, the cheap AI also survives the transition to the portable version, with any bouts against Shao Khan nearly compelling me to throw my expensive piece of kit. Fights against any of the boss tier characters can induce rage for that matter, as these bouts tread into unfair territory often. Worst of all, I found that there was no real strategy to winning these bouts; more often than not, spamming quick combos would eventually nut out a win. The cheap end game isn't a huge turn off, but it did artificially lengthen the Story Mode and render many Challenge Tower levels unenjoyable.

Despite my frustration, Mortal Kombat offers unparalleled value for a fighting game on the Vita (or any platform for that matter). With standard arcade ladders (as well as a tag variant), a plethora of mini-games and two Challenge Towers, you'd have a hard time experiencing all that this game has to offer. The Bonus Challenge Tower is exclusive to the Vita version, and offers many fun and frustrating ways to experience the portable's touch controls. This iteration also includes the complete roster, including Sony-exclusive, Kratos and all four paid-for characters: Rain, Skarlet, Kenshi and Freddy Kreuger. Better still, there's a slew of unlockable costumes that don't cost an additional cent. Content is unlocked through sustained play, not by shelling out extra dough. When a competitor such as Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 demands around thirty bucks to supply each character with some extra duds, Mortal Kombat is a cost-effective breath of fresh air.

Disappointingly, I wasn't able to connect to any online multiplayer lobbies, so it's just as well that the Vita version doesn't require redemption of an online pass. Repeated attempts at matchmaking ended in failure, but I suspect this may have a lot to do with the fact that there are few Aussies who've opted to import this version.

It may be frustrating, even ugly, but Mortal Kombat is easily one of the best games on the PlayStation Vita and a brilliant fighting game in its own right. With enough blood and guts to keep players engaged for months, this is a game that you should certainly consider importing. I only wish there were some bloodthirsty kombatants nearby so I could play some matches online, but rest-assured, it's a great fun playing solo.

Friday, May 25

There are some things you should never do

For Bev and Dash.

You should never answer the phone while sitting on the toilet.
You may just receive news that you're not sure how to deal with,
being left literally and figuratively,
with your pants around your ankles.

You should never assume.
What might seem lonely to some,
is a life dedicated to people and principles.
Thousands remember you and love you as family.

You should never be led.
Do what makes you happy,
even if it makes no sense to anyone else.
Acceptance starts with you. 

You should never ignore a cry for help;
even if you're not sure that you're helping,
even if you don't really know the caller that well.
We all need to know someone cares.

You should never lose touch.
You'd never think it possible with all this technology.
I should've known you better,
though what we had was still fun.

You should never doubt yourself;
even when things turn to shit,
even when there's no apparent means of escape.
Things will get better.  

Wednesday, May 23

The Ghost Of You and Me

My 360 still isn't fixed and I might just be having some sort of pixel withdrawal.

It could be the feeling that a whole bunch of everything has been jammed into my weeks lately, or just the result of reduced sleep thanks to my favourite son changing his nightly slumber patterns, but I've been seeing things differently.

Recently I was mowing the lawn and started thinking about the time prior. All of a sudden I could see my ghost, much like in Gran Turismo, and his pace was much better. Needless to say the lawn looks pretty average thanks to my rushing...but I smashed that pale bastards time.

Thankfully I'm not seeing coins on the road as I drive...

Once I thought I saw a freight train crossing the highway at 2am but that was the result of too many energy drinks too early in the evening and a ridiculously fast sugar crash.

I'm keen to send off my console soon and sort the situation out. My list of games is steadily growing from Rayman (damn your convincing prose, Dutch!) and Max Payne 3 to an Arkham Asylum reprise and a dabble in XBLA.

If you were without games due to life's little distractions, which would you miss the most? Have you ever gone a bit stir crazy with such absence?

Brand Recognition

My lovely wife recently gifted me with Gelaskins for my iPad and PlayStation Vita. Instead of going with some generic designs, she went for a custom look. Specifically, she took the blog's awesome logo -- penned by master artist, Alex Connolly -- and had them tailored to my portable devices.

Must admit that I'm a little chuffed when flashing my custom wares at my fellow commuters.

Delivery took a while, but I love the effect. You can order Gelaskins for just about any device and some gaming peripherals, and if you're interested in creating your own, be sure to check out their website.

Monday, May 21

Diablo III: Starter Edition shines a Torchlight on my impulsive nature

I was so close to buying Diablo III. It was in my cart, I only had to click a few more buttons to have Blizzard's latest masterpiece in my hands.

I held my nerve though and instead appealed to someone, anyone to send me a code for the downloadable trial. Thankfully, a generous Tweeter came to my aid and after about six hours, I was ready to play. For the record, I too encountered an error upon trying to log in to Error 12 to be precise. After a quick google, I knew to change my account settings and soon I would start my journey into the depths of hell.

At first glance, Diablo III isn't much to look at. The character models for each of the classes look a little simplistic, especially when compared with those seen in Max Payne 3 that saw release in the same week. I chose the balding, bearded monk, assigned him my standard name (Dutch, in case you were wondering), and started clicking.

With its subtle hints of narrative, charming art style and visual splendour, I soon found myself hooked. For about three hours I clicked and clicked and clicked some more. I clicked barrels and jugs and skeleton warriors. I clicked loot and gold and rearranged my inventory multiple times. Alas, sleep was required as work -- bracketed with a lengthy commute -- awaited me the following day.

I tried to return to New Tristram the following night, but twelve hours away from the house had me exhausted. "Tomorrow," I thought the following day, and "Tomorrow" soon became yesterday with no additional play to be had. I finally found the time to get back online, and I proceeded to click some more. It felt more laboured this time, far less compelling. It was nothing like those first three hours.

Those first three hours. What was with this irrepressible sense of deja vu?

Torchlight! Nearly three years ago now, I bought Runic Games' highly-regarded Diablo clone during a Steam seasonal sale, and proceeded to invest a fevered three hours in the click and loot heavy RPG. After that, I never played it again; save for a failed five minute attempt to re-engage with it last year.

Back to Diablo III. After more clicking, kicking, and with Templar in tow, I defeated the Skeleton King and reached the end of the trial. With some satisfaction,  I clicked "Cancel" instead of "Upgrade now" when Blizzard came knocking at the end. It turns out, this kind of Action RPG just isn't my thing. Thanks to a near-stranger and three hours of play, I was able to ascertain that without dropping sixty dollars on the retail version.

How are you enjoying Diablo III? Has anyone upgraded from the Starter Edition?

Friday, May 18

Kombat Time

I'm ashamed to admit that I never watched a full episode of Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. You'd hardly think that Mortal Kombat is ideal subject matter for a children's cartoon, and as it turns out, you'd be right. There's an innocence in these scenes which is rich in memetic energy, but completely unfaithful to the source material. MK Headquarters, romance, jets, Sonya's catchphrase "Kombat Time!", this just wouldn't fly in the series proper.

Anyway, watch this and I guarantee you'll be in stitches.

Note: I'll get back to "proper" writing next week,  promise. Just revelling in all the gory and glory the series has to offer.

Thursday, May 17

What [beverage] goes best with this [food]?

The Mortal Kombat love-in kontinues!

Since I started playing Mortal Kombat last week, the only song I want to listen to is "Zero Signal" by Fear Factory. For those of you that don't know, it's the industrial/metal track that's butchered to suit the fight between Johnny Cage and Scorpion in the so-bad-it's-good 1995 film adaptation of the videogame klassic.

The ninth Mortal Kombat instalment embodies that so-bad-it's-good spirit like nothing in the history of the medium. In case you haven't noticed, I'm in love with this game!

Now, let's get drunk and/or listen to Fear Factory!

Wednesday, May 16

Raiden answers life's big questions

I'm a bit krazy for Mortal Kombat at the moment. The PlayStation Vita version has me nothing short of kaptivated. I've just konquered the story mode which -- save for two inkredibly cheap boss fights -- is the best I've played in the history of the genre. Yeah, the narrative may be a little too serious and at odds with the laugh-out-loud hyperviolence that permeates through the entire package, but it's challenging and well worth experiencing.

The sound effects in Mortal Kombat are what sell the brutality to me. This can primarily be attributed to the less than impressive visuals in the Vita version. It's not a komplete mess, but kompared to the kalibre of the home konsole versions' display, it just doesn't kut it. Luckily enough, the X-Ray moves and Fatalities krunch and squelch just how I think they should, and I still snicker after seeing most stomach-turning attacks for the fiftieth time.

The nonsensical noises that most fighters make when performing attacks is key to the humour of this instalment of the series. Liu Kang's high pitched howling is sekond only to Raiden's skreaming which doesn't seem to have changed after all these years. A friend (thanks, Mike!) introduced me to this video that tries to show us what Raiden's really trying to tell us when he's kicking asses across realms and worlds.

I feel enlightened now. If you want any further Mortal Kombat flavoured lols, check out this brilliant piece from Samir Torres and Jason Lomberg of Bitmob fame.

Monday, May 14

Prototype 2 Review (PS3): A bloody good time

I love sandbox action games. Now that I've moved away from my hometown and don't have any readily-available friends for local play, I dare say that the genre has eclipsed fighters as my favourite. There's something so powerful about the fully-realised worlds and mechanics found in the genres greatest champions -- Grand Theft Auto IV, Just Cause 2 and Red Dead Redemption off the top of my head -- that allows me (and most probably others) to tune out from reality and forget about the troubles of modern life. Great story and characterisation aren't a pre-requisite for enjoyment with these games, and that may just be the reason that Prototype 2 succeeds.

Iraq veteran, James Heller is by no means a terrible character, but you'll have seen his emotional range within six minutes of first meeting him. He gets angry and swears... a lot. That, punctuated with violent, superpower-tainted outbursts comprises the game's story: a played-out revenge tale with hilariously and infallibly evil villains with untrustworthy eyes and devious grins. Be assured, there are no twists or turns across ten plus hours of narrative. Gameranx editor, Ian Miles Cheong commented that the game has a comic book storyline and he's not wrong in saying so. What I will say, however, is that you have a small trade paperback's worth of dialogue and character development and an entire series worth of mindless, albeit compelling action.

What does surprise is the way and speed in which players are empowered with stomach-turning abilities. After completing a handful of missions and collecting a few items, I was able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound and soar across New York City's skyline without a care. Play for a little longer and you'll be granted the ability to pluck helicopters from the air and create tentacle hentai at the push of two buttons. This sense of instant gratification is both Prototype 2's greatest selling point and its biggest weakness: you get far too powerful too quickly. Any sense of challenge is created by the game's awkward camera and occassionaly unresponsive controls.

Losing sight of a Goliath or any other abomination will rarely cost you your life, but it will cause you frustration. Accidentally grabbing a table instead of the enemy you were supposed to consume may cause you to replay a short sequence, but there is no genuine threat. There is no difficult mission, no brain-breaking puzzle: James Heller's most imposing opponent is the player controlling him.

I should clarify that these moments of infidelity are relatively infrequent, and for the most part I was enthralled by the game's thrilling approach to movement and conflicts of a scale not seen since inFamous 2. I loved every power with the exception of the seemingly-redundant Blade ability. I won't detail everything on offer, but there's a few powers that allowed me to fight like some of my favourite comic book characters: Wolverine, Venom and Hulk to name but a few. There's even the ability to commandeer tanks and helicopters, complete with functional control schemes. The attack chopper is probably the best sandbox helicopter I've come across, all competitors considered. The mission design may be a bit repetitive (hunt, consume, and destroy in no particular order), but you're often afforded enough freedom to make each one fun.

Prototype 2 also offers a glut of collectables and side missions that can add hours to your playthrough and most of which are worth experiencing. Prototype 2 even has a New Game + mode that allows you to carry all of your abilities and upgrades to a playthrough on the same or different difficulty. This is a full-featured package, with enough meat to justify the purchase price.

Prototype 2 isn't the best sandbox action game available, but it's still worth playing. If anything, its violent spectacle is sure to arouse discussion with friends with depth and feeling far greater than the action occurring on screen. It's violent, it's awkward at times, but more often than not, it's bloody good fun. Recommended for all except the squeamish amongst you!

Thursday, May 10

3 picks for a friend falling out of love with games

A few weeks ago over a few drinks, my best friend -- let's call him Gravy -- made an admission that rocked me to my very core: he was falling out of love with games.

I can understand why. He's got two growing boys, a demanding job and other interests to accommodate; so he doesn't have the time to trawl gaming websites for advice on purchase decisions. He just goes with his gut when it comes to games, and it's been telling him the same thing for the better part of a decade: sports games (soccer, rugby league and union as well as anything MMA flavoured) and "realistic" first-person shooters (pretty much any instalment of the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises).

He's hinted that there had been problems previously, so I'd made some suggestions to find his boundaries. Halo 3 and Reach drifted too deeply into sci-fi territory, he has no love of third-person action games (no God of War or Devil May Cry in his diet), and he's allergic to fighting games. I haven't thought about it for a while, but our recent pow wow has driven me to make a prescription of quality games to bring the spice back to his gaming life.

Crysis 2
Halo may be a little too sci-fi for my buddy, but Crysis 2 has just enough modern hardware and human opponents to claw him back into his comfort zone. Yes: there's still aliens, and the ability to cloak may be a few decades ahead of the ghillie suit, but I think he'll be able to deal. The nanosuit abilities will also help to mix up the stale first person rut that the Modern Warfare games have lulled him into. I also think that Gravy may come to love the  Ceph: the alien race that not only acts as opposition, but who's essence also powers your skin-tight adornment. Their variety, intriguing design and deadly movement will keep even the sharpest of shooters on their toes. It also helps that Crysis 2 features several heart-stopping moments with an unmatched sense of scale and destruction. Start spreading the news: New York's destruction at the hands of the Ceph and CELL should be able to revive any jaded shooter fan's love of gaming.

 Feel the love or die trying. 

Gravy doesn't have access to a solid internet connection, but let's just say that if he were to sign with a reputable provider, Crysis 2 will be well worth his time. The suit abilities, genre staple play modes and varied arsenal had me engaged for quite some time. It's not a stark departure from the Call of Duty brand of competitive multiplayer either: it still boils down to a run-and-gun formula, but it tastes a little bit different.  

Rayman Origins
I imagine that one of the great challenges of trying to balance parenthood with gaming is finding age-appropriate options for your kids that are somehow engaging for you too. I've seen some suggest Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, but that may be a slippery slope cost wise. Rayman Origins can be picked up rather cheaply in Australia because it was an inexplicable commercial failure in the Land Down Under.

Better yet, Rayman Origins is the greatest platformer on this generation of consoles. With charming visuals, responsive controls and a level of challenge that's both fair and hair-tearingly frustrating at the same time, Ubisoft Montpellier's masterpiece is family-friendly and engaging for men, women and children of all ages. I've even shared my plans to teach my niece to appreciate gaming through Rayman Origins' visual splendour and stoic challenge.  

Gravy's youngest may be too young to play now, but the game's 4-player cooperative mode will be able to accommodate Mum, Dad and the boys. Hell, even if you don't have to find a game for four people to play at once, you owe it to yourself to play Rayman Origins. If nothing else, Michel Ancel's brainchild should set both of Gravy's boys up for a lifelong love of gaming.

NBA 2K11
I can't think of any sport that Gravy doesn't appreciate. Funnier still, I can't think of a single sports game that he's shied away from; even terrible, broken interpretations of games of local favour. The man paid $110 for Rugby League Live for the love of cake. It has to be the worst sports game that I've played on the PlayStation 3, and would rank amongst the worst releases across generations of hardware.

Nearly two years on, however, NBA 2K11 is still the premier basketball sim on the market. It may be stripped of its online multiplayer modes now, but the Jordan Challenge mode is still available to play and stands as a true a test of mastery. For a casual sports fan like me, these tests remain unconquered; but for someone like Gravy, who used to invest hours in even the most meagre of sports games, these may just be do-able. Let's not forget the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown, local multiplayer, the My Player mode, jaw-dropping visuals and a decent licensed soundtrack either. NBA 2K11 is enough to draw any sports fan in front of their console of choice, and I'm confident that it will inspire Gravy's competitive spirit. 

 Impending Boomshakalaka!

I should note that I've tried to pick games that are a little more affordable and available on multiple platforms. Gravy's a PlayStation 3 owner and there's some great exclusives that would just as easily jump-start the love affair -- Uncharted 2, Killzone 2 and inFamous to name a few -- but I want to help anyone with a friend who's drifting away from the couch. 

What games would you recommend for a friend falling out of love with games?

Tuesday, May 8

Screw You And Your Glossy Packaging

It's happened again.

My beloved Xbox 360 has decided to stop working and it couldn't have happened at a worse time.

It's not like I've been playing it much (for those keeping score this is my first post in three-ish weeks) but typically I'm becoming more available to play games or wanting to write and am in need of inspiration. Or, and this is most common, some dickhead has annoyed me and I want to blow off some steam and alien heads from their necks.

At least this time it was only two red lights (overheating issue) as opposed to the three last time (red ring of death).

What really annoys me is that this is the second occurrence of the dreaded red lights of heartbreak in around four years. Not only is this disappointing from a gaming perspective but from a tight assed consumer perspective I now need to spend the equivalent of a new release game to get it fixed and am also without a key part of technology in my home.

I know I'm not alone in this issue but I'm not sure if it's slightly comforting or adding to my woes. From memory, Dutch went through three consoles however there were enough complaints received by Microsoft that they tripled their initial warranty period to cover the large number of returns.

With no sign of the next console in sight this year, it looks like I'll bite the bullet and get old whitey fixed and then upgrade in due course.

How many times have you seen red? Uppity PS3 users with a superiority complex and their lack of red console lights need not reply!

Monday, May 7

God of War: Ghost of Sparta Review (PSP): Still got it

A few weeks ago I read that several notable first-party PSP releases were being marked down to a more-than-reasonable price point. The likes of Gran Turismo, Patapon 3, Resistance: Retribution and Little Big Planet would cost just over ten dollars. My impulse muscle -- by far my strongest -- was pulsating at the news, particularly when I noticed that Ready at Dawn Studios' follow-up to the wonderous God of War: Chains of Olympus was also included. God of War: Ghost of Sparta is one of the final high profile releases to appear on the PlayStation Portable that matches its home console brethren in terms of ambition, but how about fun?

Short answer is: God of War: Ghost of Sparta deserves a spot on your PlayStation portable (see what I did there?) of choice. It honestly makes some Vita games appear lacking with spectacular visuals, compelling combat and a meaty adventure that had me hooked from beginning to end. It's amazing that so little appears to be compromised in this package: you have an authentic, rousing score, the series' signature sense of scale, and an array of visually-impressive abilities that players have come to expect from the God of War games.

The story, which is set in-between the first two chapters of Kratos' saga, follows our favourite anti-hero's quest to find his brother, Deimos. The narrative isn't a strong selling point, but there are some moments where -- shock horror -- Kratos isn't required to kill everything on screen that have some genuine impact. You'll also come across more mythical creatures and characters from Greek mythology, and the brutal fashion in which some are dispatched will arouse the odd, wry smile.

The only real criticism I can level at Ready at Dawn's second triumph is the lack of variety in terms of enemies and the wholesale lack of challenge. No matter where Kratos finds himself he'll end up fighting the same minotaurs, harpies and automatons that appear throughout Atlantis, Heraklion or the Domain of Death. My playthrough on Normal (Hero) difficulty lasted about six hours and I was very rarely troubled. That said, however, there's additional difficulty levels and a wealth of extra content that's playable upon completing the game.

All things considered, I had an absolute blast with Ghost of Sparta. There may be some issues with challenge and lack of variety, but Ready at Dawn have again managed to pack all of the scale, ambition and fun of the home console instalments into the PSP's tiny frame. So, at roughly twelve dollars, is the game worth your time and money?:

Thursday, May 3

Prototype 2 is best experienced with witnesses

You need to do me a favour. Bro me a solid, if you will (I understand if you won't):

Play Prototype 2, and make sure people are watching.

Keep in mind this game is in no way suitable for children: its beyond hyper-violent action and abundance of coarse language is unsuitable for young eyes and ears. I'm sure that this will be a conversation starter though. While playing the game with my wife bearing witness, we delved into a great many topics that betrayed the depravity playing out on screen.

The blunders of bureaucracy
Every time I play a violent game, my mind is cast to those that the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) deemed to be too dangerous for the impressionable adults of Australia. Given that Mortal Kombat was once again refused classification -- the PlayStation Vita version this time -- it's prudent to examine the contents of my new plaything and compare. You'll have to forgive me for using old evidence, but please observe the following justification for the banning of NetherRealm Studios' universally-acclaimed fighter:
At the conclusion of a bout, a character is invited to perform a ‘finishing move’ or ‘fatality’. To perform a fatality, a player has to push a series of button combinations within a short period of time. If this is successfully accomplished, a non-interactive cut scene is triggered which depicts a character explicitly slaughtering their opponent. (via Kotaku AU)
Once you acquire the Black Hole ability in Prototype 2, be prepared to defile the bodies of your opponents in ways that would make Noob Saibot cringe. You can tie Blackwatch operatives up in your suspiciously phallic extensions and tear them in half, with a wealth of blood and viscera spraying on-screen. You don't even have to memorise complex button combinations, just press the circle button (B for 360 players) and then triangle (Y) to "consume"  and otherwise violate your pursuers. This slaughter is just as -- or in my opinion, more so -- explicit as that seen in Mortal Kombat. It's far more commonplace in Prototype 2 as well. Think about it: to see Noob Saibot's fatality, you would normally win a fight of two rounds and enter the appropriate combination of buttons at the correct distance from the opponent. In Prototype 2, you can rip apart anyone using your gooey extensions as soon as you obtain the Black Hole ability; there's very little to stop you from dispatching your enemies in less stomach-turning ways. The decision to green-light Prototype 2 for sale makes no sense at all.

Keep in mind, I haven't even examined the use of claws, the unbelievably-brutal unarmed consumption animations and a bevvy of other instances of violence that would prove the OFLC's decision making process to be nonsensical at best, and negligent at its worst.

Is that a tendril in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
I commented on Twitter that Prototype 2 -- to me, at least -- is a wee bit phallocentric. I went as far to say that it felt "like a homage to the wang." Charging your Black Hole ability shoots tendrils into your enemies that throb from your shoulders and then draw in bystanders and inanimate objects in a videogame form of "phallocentric materialism" (Curtin, 2003); your ability to consume is unmatched and unable to be curbed.

Then there's the Hydras, massive phallic creatures that have appeared in a few of the missions I've played so far. The first of which was perhaps the most startling: the hydra is restrained and sedated, but the appearance of our hero (or anti-hero), Heller arouses it and compels it to rise from its slumber, breaking its restraints and creating a large white cloud. It was pretty obvious to me, but others may think I was looking a little too deeply into this explicitly violent text. What do you think? Am I seeing something that isn't really there?

Man Vs Wild

So you attack your enemies with penises, and your enemies are potentially penises themselves? Different!

Just Cause? 
Edge have declared Prototype 2 to be "the most cheerfully destructive sandbox since Just Cause 2." Truer words have never been written. In my experience (about five or six hours), Heller is the car and the jet, and he can hijack tanks and helicopters, and create tentacle hentai at the push of a few buttons. Troubling themes and terrible story aside, it's a joy to propel yourself across Prototype 2's version of New York City. The Radnet challenges also add a more frivolous and competitive element that's missing from the island paradise of Panau.

Best of all, players can unlock some impressive movement-based abilities after a fairly short time. Find some collectables and level-up four times and you can leap over tall buildings, fly for sustained periods and move at impressive speeds. Prototype 2's most obvious competitor, inFamous 2 saves the more enjoyable transportation powers until the end game. All things considered, I prefer the early empowerment strategy employed in Prototype 2.

Don't get me wrong: Panau's great expanse and wealth of colour is far from being bested by this apocalyptic iteration of the Big Apple, but it's a great sandbox all the same.

Frequent Coarse Language
Prototype 2 is not for everyone: my wife has often expressed her disgust at the explicit depictions of dismemberment and abundance of gore (and believe me when I say she isn't normally perturbed by high levels of violence, provided that it has a purpose), and I just can't stomach the cringe-worthy script; but it needs to be seen and played to be believed. Some of the abilities are an absolute blast to use, and I've never experienced such joyous movement in a videogame. It's just a shame that Radical Entertainment have chosen such a dark and humourless angle for this text. If only we had a superpowered Rico Rodriguez trashing New York City instead of James Heller's tired revenge play.