• Video Game Roundup – Summer 2008 Edition


    It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about video games, largely because I was going through a bit of a dry spell in that arena. That all changed about a month ago when, after about three years of nagging from a friend, I reinstalled City of Heroes. 1This is not an exaggeration. I had characters that were inactive for well over 1200 days. Well, technically, I installed City of Villains, but the fine folks at NCSoft bundle the subscriptions to both, so “upgrading” to City of Villains got me 30 days of free play on both games.

    Now that I’ve got my game on again, I’ve taken a belly flop into the pool of pixelated entertainment. Here are the games I’ve been playing over the past couple of weeks:

    • City of Heroes (PC)City of Heroes/Villains (PC) I’ve only played three Massively Multiplayer Online Games, 2The other two: Earth & Beyond and the original iteration of Star Wars Galaxies. but City of Heroes is by far my favorite. A friend at work has been trying to get me to join the cult of World of Warcraft for several months, but elves and orcs don’t appeal to me as much as capes and cowls. I meant to create a few villains during my 30-day “trial” period, but was having so much fun with my cadre of heroes that I never bothered.
    • Destroy All Humans 2 (Xbox)Destroy All Humans 2: Make War Not Love (Xbox). Long-time readers of this blog will undoubtedly know that I’m not especially good at completing video games. I once lost a bet because I couldn’t finish two games in a year. Every once in a while, though, a game grabs hold of me much in the same way a crocodile siezes a wildebeest, its jaws clamping down on the unwary ungulate’s throat until the final twitch is twutch. Destroy All Humans 2 had all the elements necessary to be that game, plus I began playing just when Laura and Kyle fled to Florida for a week, leaving me free to play and play and play some more with no one wanting to watch The Wonder Pets! or (worse)The Closer. 3Seriously, Kyra Sedgwick’s accent drives me up the wall. I’d much rather hear Ming Ming duckling say “this is sewious” than listen to Mrs. Kevin Bacon drawl her way through … Continue reading The story takes place in 1969 and follows Cryptosporidium-138, an alien invader who (in the first game) managed to infiltrate the White House. Now, however, the Russians have destroyed his mothership and he’s out for revenge, uncovering a vast conspiracy (and meeting a dangerously enchanting female KGB agent) along the way. The dialog is amusing (rife with innuendo and not at all appropriate for young kids), the missions are challenging but almost never frustrating, and the variety of weapons that Crypto acquires for himself and his flying saucer as the game progresses make destroying humanity fun for the whole family. Except the kids. And probably wife.
    • Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC)Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC). I own this roleplaying game for both the PC and the Xbox, 4But not the Game of the Year edition that includes both the Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions. No, that would be too convenient. but I’ve never really taken a character beyond Seyda Neen (the village in which the hero begins the game). Once upon a yesterday I named Morrowind as my “Island Game”, the single title I’d take with me if I were stranded alone on an island and somehow miraculously had both a computer and the electricity necessary to play games all day (instead of building a raft or a signal fire, I guess, which seems very typical of me). I’ve heard so many good things about this game (and even better things about Oblivion, its successor) that I’m determined to play it through, come hell or high water.
    • LEGO Indiana Jones (PC)LEGO Indiana Jones (PC). Having enjoyed both LEGO Star Wars games immensely on the Xbox, I was disappointed to learn that LEGO Indiana Jones would only be available for “next generation” consoles. 5Please, for the love of Adam Sessler’s anime-inspired hair, stop calling the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii “next generation consoles”! They’re here, for … Continue reading So, when I was wandering through Best Buy and found myself reading the system requirements for the PC version, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my aging desktop computer met those requirements. Alas, the recommended system specs were considerably higher than the minimum specs, so the game ran rather poorly, at least until I upgraded my PC. Even so, the keyboard-based control scheme in the PC version is sadly inferior to the Xbox controller setup; so much so that I may put this game aside until I can buy an Xbox 360 controller. 6For those who may not know, wired Xbox 360 controllers are USB devices and compatible with Windows.
    • Homeworld (PC)Homeworld (PC). I blame Sam Chupp for this one. He casually mentioned that he couldn’t stop playing Homeworld and I suddenly developed a nervous tic that wouldn’t go away until I dug out the install CDs for not only Homeworld, but Homeworld: Cataclysm and Homeworld 2. This 3-D realtime space simulator has everything: beautiful graphics, compelling story, intuitive interface, engaging gameplay, and some of the best sound effects and music I’ve ever heard in a video game. Very few games have been able to pull me so completely into their universe, but Homeworld is definitely one of them.
    • Command & Conquer Generals (PC)Command & Conquer Generals (PC). Ah, the alphabet. Because I have my games arranged alphabetically, I stumbled across the Command & Conquer Generals discs in my hunt for Homeworld and then next thing I knew I was installing the game. Generals never really ran well on my PC, but it’s beautiful now that I’ve upgraded. I have never finished an RTS (though I came close with StarCraft and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos), but there’s a first time for everything, or so I’ve heard.
    • Freedom Force (PC)Freedom Force (PC). Now here’s a game I have finished. In fact, I finished the sequel (Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich) in about a week, which was (at the time) entirely unprecedented. I need to scratch my superhero gaming itch, and this is definitely the game that’ll do so. The first time I played through I was only concerned with completing the story, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Destroy All Humans 2 it’s that completing one hundred percent of the game—leaving no stone unturned, no objective unaccomplished and no shiny ungrabbed—is immensely satisfying. My goal with Freedom Force is to complete every secondary objective of every mission; no mean feat, as usually the secondary objectives are only revealed after the mission is complete.

    1 This is not an exaggeration. I had characters that were inactive for well over 1200 days.
    2 The other two: Earth & Beyond and the original iteration of Star Wars Galaxies.
    3 Seriously, Kyra Sedgwick’s accent drives me up the wall. I’d much rather hear Ming Ming duckling say “this is sewious” than listen to Mrs. Kevin Bacon drawl her way through another interrogation. That’s why she’s so good at what she does: five minutes in a room with her is enough to make even the most hardened criminal confess to anything as long as she will just shut up, fer crissakes!
    4 But not the Game of the Year edition that includes both the Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions. No, that would be too convenient.
    5 Please, for the love of Adam Sessler’s anime-inspired hair, stop calling the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii “next generation consoles”! They’re here, for cryin’ out loud! They’re current generation! Just…knock it off…really.
    6 For those who may not know, wired Xbox 360 controllers are USB devices and compatible with Windows.
  • Geekstuff: The Birthday Rundown


    Well, I’ve been thirty-four years old for a week now and I’ve gotta say I’m liking it so far. There are times when being an adult is all about socks and shirts and ties, oil changes and mortgage payments, but I’m happy to say that my family and friends know that I’m still all about the books, comics, toys and games. Apart from a very nice polo shirt from my mother-in-law, most of my birthday bounty would have been eagerly received by seventeen-year-old me.

    • LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for the Xbox, from my young apprentice. Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.
    • The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler, from Laura.
    • A Boba Fett t-shirt, also from Laura.
    • The Ultimate Fantastic Four trade paperbacks volumes 1-5, from Miscellaneous G™.
    • Three Hellboy comics signed by Mike Mignola, from Chris.
    • A green FlyTech Dragonfly, from my sister-in-law and her family. A remote-controlled ornithopter! How cool is that?
    • A musical Batman card from my elder, bigger little sister.
    • Filthy lucre from my parents, mother-in-law and grandparents-in-law, which I used to buy:
      • 18 by Moby (CD)
      • Play by Moby (CD)
      • Hellboy: Sword of Storms (DVD)
      • Dune: Extended Edition (DVD)
      • Blade Runner: Director’s Cut (DVD)
      • Pan’s Labyrinth (DVD)
    • Last but not least, pumpkin pie from my grandparents-in-law. Yes, it’s more of a fall pie. I don’t care. I will eat it now and then, I will eat it anywhen!

    [EDIT: I forgot a couple of things!]

    • Police Squad! The Complete Series on DVD, from the Wiitalas. Police Squad! didn’t succeed as a television series (a shame, because it’s hilarious), but it eventually evolved into three Naked Gun movies.
    • Spamalot Original Cast Recording, also from the Wiitalas. Laura and I saw Spamalot last year, and it was fantastic. My favorite song is probably “The Song That Goes Like This”, but they’re all good.
    • The first season of Arrested Development on DVD, from my sister and her boyfriend. Despite several people telling me I should have been watching this show when it was originally on the air, I’ve never seen it. I’m probably directly responsible for its cancellation.
    • The Omnivore’s Dilemma, also from my sister and her boyfriend. I’m not sure, but I think this book has something to do with that “fourth meal” I’ve been hearing about at Taco Bell.

    Are my friends and family not awesome? Yes. Yes they are. They made me a very happy birthday boy.

  • Game Night: 27 February 2007


    Marvel Ultimate AllianceThe evening began with Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which may be the last great game for the Xbox Classic. Miscellaneous G™ and I continued our assault on Atlantis with our Femme Fatale squad (Invisible Woman, Marvel Girl, Spider Woman and Storm). S.H.I.E.L.D. sent the heroes to investigate a coup in the undersea kingdom that appeared to have ties to Doctor Doom’s new villainous organization. The heroes found that Attuma, a warlord who believes he is fated to rule Atlantis, had stolen the throne from Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Attuma was using sonic emitters — devices apparently supplied by Doctor Doom — to play havoc with the Atlanteans’ emotions and turn them against Namor and all surface dwellers.

    At about 9:30, our special guest gamer, Gus, arrived. We turned off the Xbox, examined the vast array of board and card games at our disposal (most contained within Miscellaneous G™’s awesome Geek Box) and Monsters Menace America, which none of us had ever played (in fact, it had not yet been removed from its cellophane womb).

    Monsters Menace America
    Monsters Menace America is a board game in which players control giant monsters rampaging through North America. Each player also controls the deployment of one branch of the military. The object of the game is to gain health and Infamy by stomping cities, military bases and other locations (typically tourist attractions and monuments such as Carhenge, Graceland and Mount Rushmore) in preparation for the Monster Challenge, a monster-on-monster brawl that determines which monster reigns supreme.

    We started out slowly, fumbling through the rules a bit and not certain what our strategies should be, especially around the deployment and movement of military units. I played Toxicor, a towering radioactive purple blob, and controlled the Air Force’s fighter jets and cruise missiles. Toxicor first appeared near Lake Ontario and stomped all over Cleveland and Detroit, completely ignoring the smorgasbord of cities along the eastern seaboard.

    In Florida, the monocular menace known as Zorb (played by Gus, who also controlled the Army) trashed Tampa and mauled Miami, then started making its way up the east coast toward Boston and New York. Each stomped city grants the stomping monster additional health points, and larger cities provide big bonuses. Zorb was heading for a veritable feast and there was nothing to slow its progress, save a handful of National Guard units.

    Meanwhile, on the west coast, Gigantis (an oversized praying mantis played by Laura) destroyed Los Angeles, Phoenix and several military bases, despite the brave Air Force pilots’ valiant efforts to stop the insectile marauder.

    Miscellaneous G™ quickly learned that Megaclaw’s lair near Montana wasn’t an ideal starting point, due to a lack of major metropolitan areas in the region. His plan to amass Infamy tokens (which could be traded for extra attacks during combat) was working well as he demolished Carhenge and other nearby attractions, but Megaclaw’s health was not rising as quickly as those monsters who were decimating the coastal regions. Unfortunately, Miscellaneous G™ had to leave before the game was over, so the hideous Megaclaw was retired, as were the Navy’s fighters and nuclear submarines.

    Realizing too late that Zorb was on his way to becoming unstoppable, Laura and I sent our combined military forces to the east coast. Again and again Zorb was attacked by Air Force cruise missiles and Marine Corps rocket launchers and fighter jets, but city after city fell to the creature’s deadly gaze and it grew ever more powerful. Even the mighty Mecha-Monster, a special unit I drew late in the game, proved to be little more than a minor annoyance to Zorb the Inexorable.

    After twenty locations had been stomped, the Monster Challenge began. Zorb challenged Toxicor, who was sorely outclassed. The poor toxic blob had a mere 8 health points (not to mention zero Infamy tokens) compared to Zorb’s 40, and was soon reduced to a purple stain that stretched from Syracuse to Rochester. Gigantis put up a much better fight, cashing in six Infamy tokens and beating Zorb to within an inch (or perhaps a dozen Health points) of his life. The awesome might of the terrible eye proved too much for the massive mantis, however, and Gigantis was ultimately destroyed.

    I have to admit that I completely dropped the ball in terms of strategy with Monsters Menace America. I don’t know what the hell Toxicor was doing, but it sure wasn’t collecting Infamy tokens and increasing his health in preparation for the Monster Challenge. Granted, I had a few unlucky rolls after destroying Detroit and Cleveland that resulted in Toxicor getting almost no benefit from their destruction, but it was foolish not to sweep over to New England and start wreaking havoc.

    Even though my strategy was lacking (okay, nonexistent), I still enjoyed Monsters Menace America a great deal and would definitely like to play it again. It’s a welcome addition to Game Night, which is itself mutating into something new; once 4+ hours of video gaming every other Tuesday after work, its scope has expanded to include board and card games and a growing list of attendees. An epic game of Arkham Horror looms on the horizon, but Doctor Doom and his Masters of Evil cannot be allowed to succeed in whatever fiendish plot the masked monarch of Latveria is hatching.

  • Game Review: LEGO Star Wars (Xbox)


    LEGO Star Wars (Xbox)

    LEGO Star Wars (Xbox)

    I was on the fence about picking up LEGO Star Wars because it covers Episodes I – III of the movie trilogy, and I’m not a big fan of the prequels. However, I’d heard some pretty good things about the game and I was curious to give it a shot. Then two things happened: the game moved to the “Platinum” series—which essentially means a new box, a twenty dollar price tag and (I believe) compatibility with the Xbox 360—and I found out that the game features cooperative multiplayer capability, which is almost enough to get me to buy any Xbox game.

    Miscellaneous G™ and I played LEGO Star Wars for about five hours one evening, completing both Episode I and Episode II. A week or so later, it only took us a couple of hours to finish Episode III after which we started running through the game in “Free Play” mode, playing whichever characters we liked (G avoids playing Jar-Jar Binks, for some reason) and trying to find all of the hidden mini-kit parts. Successfully collecting these parts doesn’t affect gameplay, but the parts are assembled into various vehicles from the Star Wars universe that can be viewed outside of Dexter’s cantina (the LEGO Star Wars equivalent to Cheers).

    LEGO Star Wars is geared toward the younger gamer, but has proven to be quite enjoyable for the more “mature” player as well. The total absence of clumsy dialog and wooden performances (can little plastic people emote?) made the prequel trilogy a bit more enjoyable for me, and “accidentally” killing Anakin Skywalker from time to time is quite cathartic.

    Most of the story focuses on tromping through various familiar settings armed with a lightsaber or blaster, but each episode throws one vehicle-based mission into the mix (e.g., the Episode I podrace). The Episode II vehicle mission, which takes place on the surface of the planet Geonosis, reminded both Miscellaneous G™ and I of the classic arcade space-shooter, Zaxxon.

    Whether traipsing through the Kashyyyk forest as Chewbacca or fighting a space battle as Obi-Wan Kenobi, points are scored by collecting LEGO “studs” of varying colors. Studs are used as currency at Dexter’s cantina to purchase game cheats and hints or unlock new characters. Characters are also unlocked in the course of regular gameplay, and there are more than thirty playable characters in all, good and bad guys alike.

    Levels are designed in such a way that it is impossible to collect all the secret mini-kits during “Story Mode,” thus requiring that the level be replayed in “Free Mode” with different characters. This isn’t as annoying as one might expect, as there are a lot of characters to choose from, each with his or her own interesting ability. Blaster-wielding characters, for example, have the ability to rappel at certain points, while Jedi and Sith characters can use the Force on various objects. Young Anakin can slip into spaces larger characters cannot access, droids can open doors, and Jar-Jar Binks can jump higher than almost anyone else. Then there’s Yoda, who hobbles along at a snail’s pace until the Jump button is pressed, at which point he zips along on his personal repulsor craft. Once the aged Jedi Master activates his lightsaber he is a barely-contained, highly dangerous Super Bounce Ball. With the lightsaber in hand, Yodo jumps everywhere. It makes him a formidable opponent, but it also makes him rather difficult to control.

    The biggest problem with LEGO Star Wars is the camera. All too often in multiplayer mode a misstep by one character can lead to a chain of unstoppable deaths for one or both players. If one player moves toward the edge of the screen, he may drag the other player along with him, often resulting in the other character falling to his or her death. As some of the levels are very platform-heavy (with bottomless chasms abound), this can become a major problem. If the character is not dragged to his death he may disappear, only to reappear in a very inconvenient location that will ultimately lead to his death anyway.

    Despite the poorly-implemented camera and drag mechanic, LEGO Star Wars remains a light-hearted, enjoyable and often challenging (in a good way) game, and thanks to the wide array of playable characters, replayability is high. I give LEGO Star Wars three dismembered limbs out of four.

  • PC Game: Dead Man’s Hand


    The collection grows ever larger…

    Dead Man's HandDead Man’s Hand (PC)

    Dead Man’s Hand was released right around the same time as the excellent Red Dead Revolver, and the two games are similar enough that they’re bound to draw some comparisons. They’re both western-themed shooters with a revenge-based story, and both integrate poker into the gameplay — Red Dead Revolver has a poker-themed multiplayer mode, while Dead Man’s Hand allows the gamer to play hands of poker prior to each mission in the story mode to gain extra ammunition.

    Poker gimmick aside, both games are fairly standard shooters. Dead Man’s Hand uses the first-person viewpoint, while Red Dead Revolver employs a third-person viewpoint, meaning you are essentially following the main character, Red, through the adventure. This allows for some interesting “cover” mechanics, which allows Red to effectively hide behind obstacles during a shootout. Tejon, the main character in Dead Man’s Hand, is able to crouch, but the notion of “cover” (including what can and cannot be shot through) is a little weak. This can be very frustrating, especially when trying to shoot a bad guy through the gap in a fence and finding that he is able to fill you full of lead, but you can’t return the favor.

    Also frustrating in Dead Man’s Hand is the the level design. Areas that should be accessible aren’t, and there is at least one point where Tejon becomes stuck after simply walking through a doorway. No amount of jumping, crouching, shooting or wiggling can extricate him from the predicament, and the only option is to restart the level.

    Both games offer a cooperative multiplayer mode, though neither is based on the game story. Instead, the players are pitted against computer-controlled “bots” in an arena. This is all well and good, but multiplayer co-op that proceeds through the story is much more satisfying.

    The single player story in Dead Man’s Hand follows former outlaw Tejon as he tracks down the members of his old gang, The Nine, who shot him in the back and left him for dead. Each chapter is broken into two parts: first Tejon shoots his way through a slew of lackeys and lickspittles, then he faces off against his former compadre. Tejon finds Sanchez in the classic Old West town, which leads to a showdown in the saloon. Next up is Flat Iron, who is hiding in the canyons. The face off occurs in and around a group of adobe buildings, and Flat Iron — an expert knife-thrower — weaves in and out of the alleys, nooks and crannies, and proves to be rather tricky to bag. After Flat Iron, Tejon tracks down… well, I don’t know. I haven’t managed to get Flat Iron to hold still long enough so I can retire him.

    Dead Man’s Hand doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the FPS table, and it has its share of flaws, but so far nothing severe enough to make me quit playing. On the whole, I think Red Dead Revolver is far superior, but I enjoy the Old West theme enough that I’ll play ’em both.

  • New Games: Demon Stone and Dungeon Siege II


    Demon StoneDemon Stone (Xbox)

    Demon Stone is a Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms adventure. The story was written by popular D&D novelist R.A. Salvatore, and the game features the voice talent of Patrick Stewart and Michael Clarke Duncan. The game was designed by the same folks who did the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers game, and it shows; the control scheme and combat systems in the two games are nearly identical.

    I’m normally not one to buy an Xbox game unless I’ve had an opportunity to play it first, but my decision to purchase Demon Stone untested was driven by three factors:

    1. It’s a Dungeons & Dragons game. This is nowhere near a guarantee of quality (see Eye of the Beholder for the GameBoy Advance), but I’ve had very good luck in the past with D&D titles for the Xbox (Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes, for example).
    2. I ran out of free game rental coupons for Blockbuster. Now that Blockbuster has brought about “the end of late fees,” they’ve also brought about exorbitant rental prices for video games. Eight bucks to rent a video game? I’ll pass.
    3. It was cheap. Thirteen bucks cheap.

    I would have added “Patrick Stewart” to the list, but I didn’t learn that he was involved until I started reading the manual.

    Demon Stone follows three heroes (a fighter, a mage and a Drow elf rouge) in their quest to defeat two warring bad guys who have escaped from the demon stone in which Professor Charles Xavier imprisoned them n hundred years ago (where n is either 1 or 4, I can’t remember which). When these two bad guys (they have names, but I don’t remember those, either) first appeared, Jean-Luc Picard realized that if either of them triumphed over the other it would mean the doom of Faerûn, so he imprisoned them in the aforementioned demon stone. I guess he was a pretty badass wizard back in the day. How the two bad guys managed to escape has yet to be revealed, but I’m guessing that Superman destroyed the demon stone in deep space, unaware of the danger imprisoned within. We’ll see.

    I’ve only played Demon Stone for about twenty minutes, but in that time I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of each character’s strength. The fighter, obviously, is good at melee combat, while the mage is better at range, firing a sort of mystical projectile (or “magic missile,” if you will) from his staff. The rogue has the ability to hide in the shadows, and when she is successfully doing so she appears to be transparent. She is then able to sneak up behind enemies and dispatch them very quickly with her twin scimitars. Snicker-snack!

    As with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, each character has upgradeable combat and/or magical abilities. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of inventory management mechanism, so I’m guessing that their effectiveness in combat is based solely upon purchasing upgrades to those abilities, and not at all on acquiring the legendary +4 Broadsword of Killing the Living Hell out of Your Enemies.

    Demon Stone looks like it could be promising, though it would have been nice if the developers had included a multiplayer mode. I’m not sure whether The Two Towers has such a mode, but I know Return of the King does, and it’s pretty enjoyable when it’s not making you want to launch your copy of the game into geosynchronous orbit.

    Dungeon Siege IIDungeon Siege II (PC)

    The original Dungeon Siege (which I have finished) and its expansion, Legends of Aranna (which I have not), have provided me with many, many hours of enjoyable gameplay. With that in mind, I jumped at the chance to snag the sequel for thirty bucks. Yeah, it’ll be twenty bucks come August, but I’m Señor Gratificación Instantánea, and I’ve already held off purchasing it for a couple of months.

    Dungeon Siege II is a four-CD install, which is fairly significant. One of these days I’m going to have to get me one of them fancy DVD-ROM drives for my computer so I can go back to single-disc installs (though I have no idea whether DSII is even available on DVD-ROM). I’d love to elaborate on the story and gameplay of Dungeon Siege II, particularly how the latter compares to that of the original Dungeon Siege, but I can’t; not yet.

    See, it’s a four-CD install, and by the time I finished I was too tired to actually play the game, so I just went to bed.

  • Xbox: Fable


    Oops. Turns out the disc for the Spider-Man 2 game was—to use a technical term—scratched to shit. It wouldn’t play in my Xbox at all, so I brought it back to Blockbuster and exchanged it for:

    Fable: The Lost Chapters (Xbox)Fable

    Fable is the brainchild of game designer Peter Molyneaux (Populous, Black & White 1Black & White is an interesting game. The player is essentially a god, affecting his or her will upon the people of a small island. The first time I played Black & White, I nearly jumped out … Continue reading, The Movies). Molyneaux promised that the RPG would be more open-ended and dynamic than any game in history. The final product fell far short of its creator’s hype, and Molyneaux eventually apologized for Fable‘s shortcomings. Earlier this year, a remake titled Fable: The Lost Chapters was released. The remake expands upon the original, as well as adding a few of the features that were missing. Naturally, I picked up the original game instead of the remake. 2It’s called “keeping it real.”

    Fable takes place in a medieval fantasy setting and follows the adventures of a young boy whose entire family is killed by bandits. Bandits who were — as it turns out — seeking the boy himself. The boy (who doesn’t seem to have a name) is rescued by a wizard named Maze and whisked off to the Hero’s Guild, where he is trained in the ways of combat (melee and ranged) and magic (referred to as Will). The training takes place over several years, and by the time he is ready to venture out into the world again, the boy has become a young adult. In the course of the game, the main character will eventually become a man 3In the biblical sense. and will learn why the bandits sought him.

    As is often the case with recent RPGs, the main character is presented with opportunities to make choices that will incline his character toward either “good” or “evil.” As is always the case, I am playing him as a friggin’ Boy Scout. I always tell myself that I’ll go back and play the game as a right bastard when I complete the “good” campaign, but my track record of actually completing games is dismal. 4I did complete Deus Ex, the finale of which depended upon the main character’s actions, but the ultimate outcome really came down to a single decision made at the very end of the game. Great … Continue reading

    I played Fable for about an hour last night before bed. 5My Sleep Number is 55. It’s a very pretty game, with lush, detailed landscapes, decent voice-acting, and a fairly intuitive interface. With or without all the dynamism Molyneaux promised, it seems to have a lot of promise. I’ve heard that it is far too short, but that probably translates to “finishable” in KJToo parlance. We shall see.

    1 Black & White is an interesting game. The player is essentially a god, affecting his or her will upon the people of a small island. The first time I played Black & White, I nearly jumped out of my chair when one of the island folk died and a little voice whispered “death” in my left ear.
    2 It’s called “keeping it real.”
    3 In the biblical sense.
    4 I did complete Deus Ex, the finale of which depended upon the main character’s actions, but the ultimate outcome really came down to a single decision made at the very end of the game. Great game, though.
    5 My Sleep Number is 55.
  • More Damn Games


    Laura handed me one of those Mastercard gift cards yesterday with the instructions that I “blow it.” Not one to argue with a pregnant women, I stopped by Blockbuster today and found that they were selling gently used Xbox games at a 25% discount. The selection was pretty decent, so I passed over Darkwatch, Batman Begins and Burnout: Revenge in favor of the following:

    • Sid Meier’s Pirates! – I loved Pirates! Gold on the Sega Genesis, so I jumped at the change to get this new version.
    • Brute Force – Miscellaneous G™ and I are running out of cooperative multi-player games, and this one should be good for a few game nights.
    • Big Mutha Truckers – What can I say? My inner redneck wanted it.

    I also rented the movie Layer Cake, starring Daniel Craig, who is replacing Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Review to follow, I’m sure.

    In other news, I’ve had to fire up the snowblower twice in the past two days. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing runs like a Deere.

  • Finished: XIII (Xbox)


    XIII (Xbox)XIII

    I think I picked up XIII when the local Blockbuster was closing up shop and selling their used console games for half price. I hadn’t played it too much until this past weekend, when I randomly pulled it off the shelf and guided the amnesiac hero through the twisted conspiracy until he learned the identities of all twenty members of the mysterious Cult of XX.

    David Duchovny provides the voice of the hero, while Adam “Batman” West is General Carrington and sometime hip-hop artist, sometime actress Eve is the sassy and deadly Major Jones. Adam West and Eve both deliver solid performances, but Duchovny sounds almost bored throughout the entire game. Hey, Ubisoft, if you make a sequel (XIV?), consider somebody like Bruce Davidson (Nowhere Man) instead of double-D. Just a suggestion.

    Speaking of sequels, the developers of XIII seemed fairly certain there would be one, if the way the game ends is any indication. Though I haven’t heard anything about that sequel being in the works, I’d definitely like to play it, because despite Duchovny’s lackluster performance XIII turned out to be a very enjoyable game. It’s mostly a stealth shooter (a la the excellent Splinter Cell series), but at times it turns into a balls-to-the-wall, kill-everything-that-moves FPS.

    The graphics are all cell-shaded, which perfectly matches the comic book styling throughout. Each mission opens with a mosaic of panels and one or more narrative boxes outlining the mission objectives. Every time XIII stealth kills an enemy, three panels flash in the upper left to show the villain’s demise. Likewise, as the ultra-sneaky XIII detects guards patrolling, floating panels pops up to show their movement. When hiding around a corner or in another room, XIII can hear people walking nearby, and this shows up as “TAP TAP TAP” on the screen, the size and position of the text indicating just where the perambulator is located and in which direction he or she is moving.

    XIII has a variety of weapons at his disposal, my personal favorites being those designed for stealth kills: throwing knives and a scoped crossbow. In addition to these, there are grenades, several pistols, shotguns, machine guns and (of course) a bazooka. XIII can also grab an enemy in a headlock, drag him or her to a secluded location and administer a non-lethal (I think) chokehold.

    There are also a few items in XIII’s inventory not designed for dealing death: medkits, a lockpick, a “shotgun” microphone and a grappling hook (which can be a lot of fun). Throughout the game, XIII picks up “important documents,” which don’t appear in his inventory, but can be accessed through the main menu. Sometimes, these documents add new skills (dual-wielding weapons, improved sniping); other times, they provide insight into a cult member’s identity or other information on the conspiracy.

    The conspiracy involves the assassination of President William Sheridan. More specifically, the aftermath of the assassination. All evidence points to the game’s protagonist, XIII, as the assassin. Unfortunately, XIII has a whopping case of amnesia and can’t remember anything about the whole mess. In trying to put the pieces of his life back together, XIII meets some old acquaintances, discovers that the Cult of XX would really like him dead, and begins to uncover a far-reaching conspiracy. It’s a fairly satisfying plot, though a major problem is left unresolved, setting the stage for a sequel that may never be made.

  • Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer


    Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer (Xbox)Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer

    Our little Kaylie is all grown up! Ten years ago (it seemed like only last year, honestly), we saved the little waif from a gruesome death at the decaying hands of the legions of undead spewing forth from Ashcroft Prison. At the time, Kaylie was a frightened young thing toting around a teddy bear and we, the hunters, escorted her through a horrific graveyard to the safety of the church where her parents waited.

    How could we have known that we unwittingly brought a tool of evil into the church with us? The teddy bear Kaylie had clung to so desperately—that last shred of sanity in a world gone mad—suddenly roared to life, growing to immense stature before tearing the young girl’s parents limb from limb. Though we sprang to action and destroyed the foul Ruxpin, it was far too late for Kaylie’s parents, whose tattered bodies were almost unrecognizable.

    That sort of thing is bound to make a lasting impression on a child.

    Rather than sinking into the poisoned well of despair, Kaylie found a new purpose after that horrible night. In the ten years since, she has become a hunter herself, devoted to tracking down and destroying the undead nightmares that roam the land.

    When I said Kaylie was “all grown up,” I wasn’t kidding. She’s become a stunning (not to mention busty) young woman. The awful experiences of that night a decade ago left her not only with an unquenchable thirst for vengeance, but with an exhibitionist streak and a leather fetish, too. Who would have guessed?

    Now, the undead plague the streets of Ashcroft once more, and Kaylie must team up with the hunters who saved her life ten years ago.

    I am Father Esteban Cortez, also known as the Judge. Miscellaneous G™ is Kaylie Winter, the Redeemer. Together, we are a walking abattoir, cutting a swath through the evil hordes in Ashcroft. This time, the undead are joined by the elite security forces of Genefex, a corrupt corporation suckling the bitter nectar of human suffering. Or something.

    With Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer, the development team had a golden opportunity to make significant improvements over its predecessor, Hunter the Reckoning, a game that Miscellaneous G™ and I thoroughly enjoyed (despite its flaws). Instead, they made things worse. Camera angles that were once merely annoying and inconvenient are now downright frustrating. The aiming system for ranged weapons seems to have been injected with 250ccs of “oh, were you shooting at something?” Then there’s the distinct lack of coherent direction in some missions. We had to play more than one mission twice last night because the game fell short on telling us what (or where) our objective was. In one case, the “mission complete” glyph was hidden behind a staircase and was only visible when we were running away from the exit.

    On the other hand, we get to pummel endless legions of zombies, werewolves and SpecOps-types, and that’s pretty cool. The game is immensely satisfying when we’re elbow-deep in bad guys, swinging away with ridiculously huge swords, letting loose a wave of crossbow bolts, bullets and buckshot, or wiping out entire groups of zombies with our hunters’ “edges,” the various supernatural powers they utilize.

    So we keep playing. Partly because there’s an enjoyable game hidden beneath the maddening design flaws, partly because we had such a blast with the first one, and partly because we love the cooperative multiplayer games, and there just aren’t enough of them so we’ve got to play those we can find.