Category Archives: Games

Lazy Thursday

I woke up yesterday morning feeling completely rundown and crappy, so I allowed myself the luxury of calling in sick. I didn’t leave the house all day (which, unfortunately, included skipping the April Cleveland-area NaNoWriMo group meeting). Here’s what I did do:

  • Played Pool of Radiance. Old school. The original Pool of Radiance was released by SSI in 1988 and I had it for my Apple IIGS. I played for hours upon hours, mapping each area I visited on graph paper and then reproducing those maps in the art program, printing them (in glorious dot matrix color) and mounting them on poster board. Most of the time I was playing I was also listening to Rush’s A Farewell to Kings over and over and over again. I recently found a copy of the DOS version of Pool of Radiance and (with the help of DOSBox) began my quest to finish the game once and for all. Did I mention that I never finished the Apple version? Come on, this is me. Of course I never finished it. So I fired up Chronicles on iTunes and played a game that transported me in time and place. My party consists of Brak, bold human fighter; Boddy, daring and clever halfling fighter/thief; Isabeau, pious human cleric; Jaegen, devious dwarven thief; Sara, wise half-even cleric/magic-user; and Drea, mysterious elven magic-user. Together, they have kicked acres, nay, hectares of 16-color ass.
  • Watched a bit of an anti-smoking show on HBO Family. Why? I don’t even know. I was just flipping through the channels and it caught my eye. The show, aimed at teens and pre-teens, featured some rather shocking statistics and interviews with some shockingly ignorant and naive teen smokers.
  • Watched Warlock: The Armageddon. Why? Well, the TiVo recorded it and I was feeling far too lousy to find something better to do. Plus, I like cheese. Julian Sands is the title character, and he spends a lot of time killing fashion designers, prostitutes, old men, cabbies and fuzzy bunnies with gore-rific effects, only to be defeated by… headlights.
  • Watched some of the extras on the second Spider-Man 2 DVD. Interesting stuff. I like extras. There’s a mini-documentary that follows Doctor Octopus from his origin in the comics about forty years ago to his most recent incarnation in the movie. I only wish they’d showed a little more about the design and implementation of the tentacles. Perhaps that’s elsewhere on the disc.

The battle for virtual justice continues.

If my video game forum is any indication, I loves me the City of Heroes. The game, quite honestly, just keeps getting better and better. Once I sit down and start playing, it doesn’t matter which of my six heroes I choose, I can play for hours on end. (Pity Laura, for she is an MMORPG widow.) Achieving a new level can mean forty minutes of playing around with a new power (like seeing just how high I could get with Super Jump last night). Last night, I spent a good hour and a half looking for Frosty’s evil cousins.

And that’s when I’m playing solo. When Miscellaneous G™ or Slowhand or Baab join the never-ending battle for justice, time may as well be flying by at warp nine. It’s just that absorbing. I keep playing just to reveal the next cool thing. I’ve seen maybe (maybe) twenty percent of the game areas, and Cryptic continues to add new areas, powers and bad guys. Later this year, they’ll release City of Villains which will kick it up notches unheard of by mortal man.

Here comes Johnny in again…

That Winnie the Pooh Photomosaic puzzle I picked up recently? Pain in the ass. I’ve got it maybe 10-15% assembled, and Laura has the pieces sorted into about five piles: red, green, blue, yellow and unsorted. The problem is that there are really no details to speak of. You’ve got a mostly blue piece with just a little bit of green on it that could connect with one of a hundred others, either blue or green or both. In working on the puzzle I find myself looking less at the composition of the piece and more at the shape of the piece when trying to match it with others. I spent about thirty minutes putting together a chunk of the puzzle before determining that I was building the section where Tigger’s eyebrow and paw meet the sky.

So, it’s going to take a while to complete.

We started on the puzzle at about 3:30 Saturday afternoon, following several hours of watching television or playing City of Heroes after my parents, sister and sister’s boyfriend left. They stayed with us Friday night on their way to Port Canaveral, Florida. They’re taking a Caribbean cruise together. That should be an interesting experience. It’s tough to imagine my father on a cruise ship, but he’s an incessantly social creature, so I suspect that he’ll do much of what my younger brother, Adam, did back in February of 2004. Perhaps not quite so much drinking, though.

Adam surprised us all on the cruise last year. He’s two years younger than me and turned out to be ridiculously outgoing. By the second day, we were running into people who would wave and call him by name. He attended an art auction and won a bottle of champagne playing bingo. He went to all the shopping lectures. Like my father, Adam will talk to pretty much anyone about pretty much anything, and that’s what makes me wonder if I didn’t see a preview of Dad on a cruise last February.

My mother recently retired (she worked as a cake decorator for many years) and received an Olympus digital camera as a retirement gift. She tends to be a little shy of technology (she rarely uses the computer), but has amassed hundreds upon thousands of photographs over the years. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that she filled up the entire half-gigabyte XD card while cruising.

After everyone turned in Friday night, I stayed up until stupid thirty playing City of Heroes with Miscellaneous G™ and Slowhand (AKA Charm X). After a lot of heroics (and too many tactical lapses to count), I managed to get about an hour and a half of sleep before having to get up and run to the grocery store. We needed eggs, sausage, milk, orange juice and raisins. Raisins, by the way, are in the produce department. Not baking needs or canned fruit or even over near the peanut butter and jelly. In produce. Probably good to remember that for next time, so you don’t spend ten minutes running around the whole damn store looking for that chick with her basket. You know the one I mean.

Anyway, Saturday turned out to be one long day, so I went to bed early (which translates to 11:30) and got up pretty much right on time Sunday morning (which, again, translates to 11:30). After ripping a few CDs, cleaning the driveway, sidewalk and front stoop (It’s a stoop, right? A stoop?) I went down to Miscellaneous G™’s place for some gratuitous nerdity. Our Dungeons & Dragons session began around 4:00 and ended at about 11:30. That might seem like a hell of a lot of role-playing, but it probably amounts to about three hours of playing and a whole hell of a lot of nerdy tangents.

My dwarven rogue used his wrist harpoon to great effect on two occasions last night, which is a very good thing, as his first attempt at using the thing was something less than spectacular. If you imagine a burly, leather-clad dwarf being dragged down an alley thirty feet behind a shopkeeper carrying a large bell jar containing a tiny, winged snake lady… well, it was terribly embarrassing at the time.

I had some incredibly good luck when rolling up my character, so he’s very capable of kicking the booty (when I don’t blow a strength roll and wind up being dragged down an alley). If you’ve ever played the Dungeons & Dragons, this might be pretty impressive:

  • STR: 18 (originally 17, bumped to 18 upon reaching 4th level)
  • DEX: 18
  • INT: 16
  • WIS: 16
  • CON: 16
  • CHA: 10

He’s not the most socially adept fellow, but he’s got more than enough in the way of cajones to make up for his lack of savoir-faire. He is also, as has been noted on multiple occasions, swinging some serious dwarven pipe.

The Old Man is huffing and puffing today. The envy I feel for my parents and sister right now is palpable. Like a layer of guacamole surrounding my soul.

You take the Good, you take the Bad…

The Blockbuster nearest my house is closing in approximately two weeks. Their lease recently expired, and as near as I can tell the owner of the building opted not to extend it. I’ve heard a rumor that the entire plaza is being levelled and replaced with a housing project of some sort.

I’m not thrilled with the idea of having to drive to Eastlake for my movie and game rental needs. The Eastlake store isn’t miles upon miles away, but it’s far enough away that I’ll be cancelling my GamePass and not renewing my Blockbuster Rewards membership.

On the upside, the Willoughby Blockbuster is selling their stock of used Xbox games at a 50% discount. A used copy of Red Dead Revolver, for example, would normally go for $22.99. With the discount, it was $11.49.

I had already made and paid for my DVD selection (Angels in America Disc Two) when I learned about the sale. There were signs plastered everywhere, but I had managed to ignore them. I had actually opened the door of the MVoD when I decided to go back and look at the used games. In the end, I picked up five games for fifty bucks and change:

  1. Red Dead Revolver
  2. Deus Ex: Invisible War
  3. Freaky Flyers
  4. Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes
  5. Goblin Commander

Yeah, I’ve already got too many games and I really shouldn’t be buying more. But I did. It was a deal I considered too good to pass up.

X Marks the Games

Despite having never played I through XII, I picked up a used copy of XIII for the Xbox yesterday. This is a cel-shaded first-person shooter in which the main character (voiced by David Duchovny) appears to have assassinated the President. I rented XIII when it was first released, and it appeared to be a fairly decent game, so grabbing it for thirteen bucks seemed fairly reasonable to me.

I also picked up a used copy of Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer, but when I got home I discovered that there had been an accidental switcheroo and I’d received a copy of Hunter the Reckoning (if the title sounds White Wolfish, there’s good reason) instead. I’ve already played the original all the way through, and I couldn’t see any value in owning two copies, so I went back to Funcoland and they corrected the error.

Other sequels on the shelves: Spider-Man 2 (which greatly improves upon its predecessor), Prince of Persia Warrior Within and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: There’s Probably A Sub-Sub-Title. While I’d like to buy all of these, I own the first title in each series and have yet to finish them. [EDIT: Prince of Persia The Sands of Time isn’t actually the first title in the series, but it’s the first released on the Xbox. It is also one of the few games I own that tells you how much of the game you’ve completed. When I last checked, I was something like 80% of the way through it.] With KOTOR especially, that is enough to keep me from either plunking my money down on the counter or putting it on my wishlist.

Also on the shelves is Dead or Alive Ultimate. I own (and have completed) Dead or Alive 3, so I guess I’m justified in wanting this one, which is technically not a sequel, but upgraded versions of both Dead or Alive (which was originally released on the SEGA Saturn) and Dead or Alive 2 (which was not released on the Xbox). This one should really be on my wishlist, as I enjoy watching scantily-clad, impossibly-proportioned animated women kick each other’s shapely asses (though not enough to buy Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball).

Oh, and then there’s HALO 2. You guessed it, I own HALO but haven’t completed the game yet. Miscellaneous G™ and I are working on this one at the rate of an hour or two every couple of weeks. Still, I’ve played the sequel (my brother bought it while I was in Upper Michigan) and I’m not in a rush to pick it up just yet. Maybe my tune will change when (if) I get Xbox Live!I swear that the exclamation point used to be a part of the service name. I used to feel that I was was conveying a false sense of excitement whenever I mentioned the online service, but always included the exclamation point for the sake of correctness. Looking at current references to Live on the official Xbox website, I find no exclamation points at all. Were they ever really there?

Other sequels on the way:

  • MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf – Yes, I own the original, no I haven’t completed it. Lots of fun, though.
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory – This will be the third installment in the series. I’ve got (but have not completed) both predecessors and they both rock.
  • Crimson Skies: The Unnamed Sequel – Okay, this one is wishful thinking on my part. I’m actually on what I believe is the final mission of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, and I would love to hear that a sequel to this excellent game is in the works.

Burnout 3: Takedown

Burnout 2: Point of ImpactFor the record, I love Burnout 2: Point of Impact. In one session, Miscellenous G™ and I played for twelve hours straight this past spring. It was absolutely ridiculous. We spent hours and hours passing the controller back and forth, trying to complete the 30+ crash zones. We spent more hours unlocking races and vehicles or in furious competition with each other. The marathon session started at 0200 and concluded at 1400 hours (that’s right, we didn’t begin playing until 2am). There were times when I was falling asleep on the couch with the controller in my hands, but still we played on.

The unmatched sense of speed, the playful physics, the promise of unlocking better, faster vehicles, and – most of all – the wanton destruction puts Burnout 2 at the top of my list of racing games. To me, there was little room for improvement.

Burnout 3: Take downThen I rented Burnout 3: Takedown from Blockbuster. I’d played the game before, at the House of Baab, but we hadn’t even scratched the surface. We played the Party Crash mode, where one controller is passed around the room as each player attempts to create the mother of all traffic accidents in a busy city intersection. It was a lot of fun, and I could see the differences between this installment and its predecessor, but it wasn’t until I sat down in my own home and started playing from the beginning that the game really began to shine.

Everything that I like about Burnout 2 has been amplified in the sequel. The sensation of speed is now completely insane. When I kick in my boost, it feels like I’m controlling a barely-contained lightning bolt. The physics still give a wink and a nod to realism, but each car does handle differently. I can almost feel the difference in weight between the compact and the muscle car, in everything from acceleration to cornering to how each impacts other vehicles in a crash. Thus far, I’ve only played with these two types of cars, but there is a veritable automotive feast as yet undiscovered; everything from classic hot rods to Formula racers to fire engines and garbage trucks.

Throughout the single player game, barely a race goes by where something is not unlocked: a new event, a new course, a new vehicle. It’s not necessary to win a race to unlock something, either. There are dozens of different goals that open new content. Takedown goals, signature takedowns, crash totals, burnout totals, and more. The “score” in this game is measure in so many different ways that it seems I’m always hitting some milestone or another.

The big message in Burnout 3 is “risk = reward.” The more aggressively you drive, the more chances you take, the more stuff you unlock. Burnout points are gained by driving into oncoming traffic, almost hitting another car, smashing into your opponents, tailgating them, getting “air”, drifting around corners, and most of all, by forcing your opponents to crash.

When you manage this last feat (and it’s not terribly difficult to do), the game shifts into Impact Time. Everything slows down to show you the out-of-control heap of steel, fiberglass and rubber that is your opponent’s car smashing into a wall, plowing into another car, or flying off the road. You get big points and the all-important boost bar (more on that in a bit) gets bigger. If you manage to arrange a Signature Takedown (such as Pillar Driller, where your oppenent is forced to crash into a support pillar, or Gone Fishin’, where your opponent sails off the road and into a lake) the points are even bigger. Risk = reward.

But that’s not all. You can even take out opponents when you crash. Holding down the A button after you wreck triggers Impact Time and allows you to apply “Aftertouch,” affecting the direction in which your burning wreck moves. Steer it into one of your opponents and you’ll cause him to wreck too, getting points for an Aftertouch Takedown, and your boost multiplier continues to grow.

Boost is like nitro. When you do crazy stuff, your boost bar starts to fill (with flames, no less). Take out your opponents and it grows, allowing you to boost for a long, long time. Hold down the boost button anytime there’s even the slightest bit of fire in your boost bar and your car jumps forward like a rocket. Boosting anytime is a big change from Burnout 2, in which you could only boost when the bar was full. When the boost button is down, the sensation of speed is mind-boggling. Blue fire shoots out of your vehicle’s exhaust and every fiber of your being is concentrating on the road and what obstacle might be coming up next. The sound of bullets whizzing past your ears is actually the engines of other cars you overtake. One false move and you’re eating concrete.

Boost, as I said, is all-important. It seems impossible to win some events without the boost. Burning Lap events pit you against the clock. Medals are awarded at three different lap times. Even applying liberal doses of boost, I’ve found it extremely difficult to score better than a bronze on some courses. Burning Lap events must be run without error. A single wrong move and any hope of getting the gold is shattered as your car sails over a guardrail.

Other event types include Crash, Elimination and Road Rage. The first has already been discussed: drive your car into a busy intersection and cause havoc. Elimination is a five lap race with six contestants. After each lap, the trailing car is eliminated. Road Rage is just what you might expect: take down as many of your opponents as you possibly can. Each game mode (and there are others) is a different flavor of fun, but they all stick to the same “risk = reward” formula.

I’ve completed less than 10% of this game and I’ve only ventured outside the United States once (there are two other zones: Far East and Europe). I’ve unlocked two vehicle classes and a dozen or more vehicles. I have executed Signature Takedowns, Aftertouch Takedowns and basic Takedowns. I have crowed triumphantly as the only opponent between me and the finish line is forced into the back of a bus. I have marvelled at my luck after narrowly escaping certain doom. I have sworn at my opponents when they nudge me into a median and sparks fly as my car is reduced to a flaming scrapheap. I have sworn in frustration as I crossed the finish line seconds to slow to gain the silver and eons too slow to capture the coveted gold.

And I have enjoyed every last second of it.

The gameplay is simply incredible. No matter how many times I have to repeat a race or a crash zone to try to push my score into gold medal territory, the adrenaline still pumps with every drift, slam, crash and burn. The replay value is immense. Everything I loved about Burnout 2—everything that kept me coming back for more—is back and better in Burnout 3.

If I have one complaint, it is with the Crash Nav, which is to say the course/event selection menu. It seems rather clunky to me. Instead of lining up each course, the menu shows you a map with icons representing different tracks and events. Navigate to a track and you are presented with a list of events at that location. It makes quickly selecting a specific event something of a pain. Still, the gameplay is more than worth a few extra seconds spent navigating through the menu.