Afterthoughts on Portal 2


It’s really hard for me to write a fair review about this game, given my slightly biased feelings towards the Portal series. I will try to point out a few differences between Portal 1 and Portal 2 instead of rabidly raving about how much I loved this game. By the way, this post is more of a discussion about mechanics than anything else. I will try not to discuss the plot or include any spoilers, but I do slip on occasion. So, you have been warned.

Portal 2 is the first full-fledged, full-length single player campaign that we have received Valve since Half-Life 2 if you exclude episodic content (and the first Portal, since it wasn’t technically full-length). It is roughly twice as long as the first game, at about 8 or 9 hours for the single player campaign and about 5 hours for the co-op campaign. It is just long enough to deliver a complete story and a fantastic ending without getting too old or repetitive. Portal 2 is still at heart a puzzle game, but has much more of a narrative experience this time around. Each character is masterfully characterized and played out by a very talented cast of actors, from GLaDOS’ palpable passive aggressive annoyance to Wheatley’s humorous quips. I would be hard pressed to find a game with funnier or better dialogue. Being a direct sequel, the game loses a little bit of it’s charm, to some extent at least. It does not have as much of a wow factor because it’s not a new face; Players are familiar with the Portal mechanic and the overall feel of the series. Though fantastically paced as it may be, Portal 2 also settles into a rhythm: Enter a chamber, listen to a sarcastic AI quip, solve  the puzzle, exit the chamber, listen to another quip. I think that it is a game designed to be savored: Don’t just rush through it in one sitting.

The Source engine isn’t going to win any beauty contests nowadays, but it has held up remarkably well over the years, and is a fitting match to the Portal universe’s austere test chambers and degenerating building infrastructures. The texturing and shadowing are both well done and amazingly detailed. Also as always, Portal 2’s art direction and level design are top notch.

Portal 2’s difficulty doesn’t escalate as much. There were less twitch-based puzzle solutions this time around (mid-air rapid portal placement, and stuff like that). It feels more like a collection of different types of puzzles. I like the new mechanics and feel that just the right balance of newness was added, to keep the game fresh without creating giant clusterfuck puzzle rooms. The speed gel/bouncy gel courses were particularly fun. Also, this item was mentioned on a couple of other blogs but: There aren’t as many white panels in Portal 2, making proper placement fairly obvious in many cases. The first thing that I would do in a new room was to search for white panels. It seems to be very much a game of observation, both plot and puzzle wise. So the big question: Do any of the changes really detract from the game as a whole? No, they do not. It’s a bit different than what we are used to, but necessarily in a negative way. Portal 2 is easily the best game that I have played in quite a while.

PS: Co-op is amazing.

Crysis 2


At first, I didn’t have that much interest invested into Crysis 2. But, it seemed somehow wrong to purchase a shiny new video card and not buy the premier game for shiny new graphics. This entry was originally just going to be a short afterthought on the game, but I found myself enjoying it much more than I had expected; So there you go. Now, keep in mind that I have not played the first Crysis game beyond what was included in the demo. Even so, all I really did was run around punching chickens. Crysis 2: Y U NO AUTOSAVE?? Seriously.

Crysis 2 is a good shooter. If you like first person shooters and don’t mind spending a bit of cash, you may as well buy it. The multi-player component is a blast and it has a solid campaign of a reasonable length (in other words, it’s not pulling a 4 hour CoD special). If you don’t enjoy FPSs well, this game probably won’t change your mind. The overarching story is decent, but it’s not a literary masterpiece and the voice acting/dialogue was tolerable at best. I wouldn’t say that any of the characters or story elements were particularly engaging or memorable. It’s not a bad story per se, it’s just that the pacing and execution feel fragmented: There were many chapters that didn’t stitch together well or were segued with a cheap loading cut-scene. There were also way too many, “suit is failing, Alcatraz is half dead, load new area, wake up and start shooting” sequences. I swear that happened at the end of every major plot element.

Crysis 2’s gameplay is very flexible; I wasn’t expecting that to be the case and was pleasantly surprised. If you want to pick people off with a sniper rifle while safely tucked away, you can. if you want to stealth around and stabify enemies in the neck, you can. If you want to go balls out shoot-em-up style, you sure can. And, if you want to just throw shit at people with super strength, you can do that as well. There are a lot of options. My personal preference tends to lean on the sneak and snipe side of life; so I always appreciate first person shooters that offer a comprehensive stealth experience, since they seem to be few and far between.

All of your abilities draw from the same power source: Your suit. You may swap between different gameplay “modes” as they are all tied into nanosuit abilities. You have enough energy to do quite a bit, but it’s still very finite. If you move around too much while stealth, your energy will deplete fairly rapidly. The same is true if you get shot up too much while in armor mode and so forth. It forces you to analyze the situation and think about your next course of action. There’ seven a tactical view display that will display various options that are available to you.

The graphics on the PC version, obviously, look pretty kick ass. If you like this genre, have a PC that can run high end games and have even an inkling of an interest, just buy this game now and play it before the graphics go out of style in a couple of months. It looks great and it’s fun. I will admit that a not-insignificant portion of my enjoyment came from gawking at how good it looks. It’s not even the graphics too: The environments are amazingly vibrant and detailed. Crysis 2 is a linear game but, there’s enough of an exploration element where I didn’t feel trapped on a rail.

The downside is that, there  are a tragically limited number of things that you can configure from the options menu. What the fuck. All graphics options are limited to one slider. If I am playing on my computer, I want the ability to fine tune the game’s graphical settings from within the game client itself. I shouldn’t have to resort to editing config files just to enable/disable shading and fov options. Not cool. Also, the DX11 carrot keeps being dangled every other day. I know that a patch is being promised, but I haven’t seen it yet. So, I guess I will have to wait.

Dragon Age II


I like Dragon Age’s flavor: It’s high fantasy, but it has a small twist. Dwarves aren’t your run of the mill tolkienesque dwarves (I mean, some of them lack beards!) and the elves as a whole aren’t your standard tall graceful mystically superior race. It has a slightly unique feel not usually found in fantasy genres and I like that. But that said, most people have been fairly divisive regarding Dragon Age II to say the least. Honestly, I don’t think that it is as good as it’s predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins, but it’s still a good game. So if you are passing it up because of the negative reception, you are missing out on a good RPG.

BioWare’s saving grace has always been the quality of their writing and acting; Dragon Age II is no exceptions. They once again present to us, a fascinating tale of political intrigue. It is different though and feels less epic than its predecessor Dragon Age: Origins. DA II is a character based story. The plot isn’t about saving the world, it’s about one man (or woman), his life, the lives he touches and the impact that he has on a touchy sociopolitical situation. I really like character pieces so I appreciate Dragon Age II for what it is. But that said, for the a character based game, there are grossly fewer character interaction opportunities in comparison to Origins and character development suffers because of this. My favorite quests were the character stories, I would have loved more of those.

Overall pacing feels off as well. The first act is too drawn out, it takes way too drawn out; It takes too long to get into the meat of the story. Until you acquire enough capital to move to the next part of Act I, it’s just random quest after random quest. the acts also do not seem to piece together all that well. Much of the story feels disjointed, especially the Qunari storyline, which was neat but I’m not 100% certain how it meshes in with the overall plot. Is there an overall plot besides the life and times of Hawke?

The entire game for better of for worse occurs within one, albeit large city, so the number of locations that you are able to visit are pretty limited. Kirkwall is an interesting location and an appropriate one given the context of the story but if you are expecting a tale spanning continents, you will probably be disappointed. Also,the city of Kirkwall doesn’t really change all that much between the three acts. It’s somewhat awkward watching Hawke seemingly change, but the background remaining exactly the same. I could have really done without the cut-and-paste scenery though. Really BioWare? Literally every single cave and every single building interior looks exactly the same, down to the layout and everything.

Yes, the combat pacing has been sped up. I’m not sure what so many people have been criticizing it so much, it feels fine to me. My only real gripe is that the camera is very restrictive this time around. You can’t place it into a full birds-eye view, which makes dragging and repositioning party members around or just getting a general tactical view of unit positioning a pain in the ass. I am also not a huge fan of the random waves of random enemies popping in at semi-predictable locations (big empty area with crates = random battle time). Can we do away with this sort of thing BioWare? It’s been in everyone on of your games…

For all of its faults, and there were quite a few this time around, Dragon Age II is a compelling story and a blast to play. It’s worth buying, or at least waiting until it’s on sale on Steam.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood


Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is to Assassin’s Creed II as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is to Grand Theft Auto: III. That is, better and more polished in almost every way, but not a true successor to the series and not different enough to be considered one in any sense. It lays somewhere between an expansion pack and a sequel; Suffering from the middle child syndrome to some extent. Assassin’s Creed II was a huge leap in improvement over Assassin’s Creed I. Brotherhood doesn’t provide nearly that degree of improvement, but it layers additional polish to an already polished series, adding a new single player story as well as multiplayer action.

Assassin’s Creed II was an epic story spanning several decades. Brotherhood, being more condensed, does not have that degree of narrative impact but is still a good story (even though some of the plot missions feel a bit scatterbrained). I am also finding that I enjoy the side missions quite a bit. They are plentiful without feeling spread too thin, disjointed, or distracting from the main story (like GTA, I’ve only managed to finish one of those games, got bored with the rest). Rebuild your assassin empire one citizen at a time and kick back as a team of hand trained minions duke it out with a hoard of guards at your pleasure; It is a surprisingly satisfying experience. On the other hand, it feels a bit inconsequential. Level up the assassins and use them, or don’t. I don’t think it matters plot wise.

Combat is still way too counter heavy, but an execution streak system has been added: While executing your current target, you can continue a one hit kill streak by quickly selecting a close enemy with the left analog stick and hitting the square button. Though it’s more fluid, much of the combat still consists of mashing the X button while waiting for opportunities to counter attack. Even so, attacks a bit more diverse and there are a wider variety of weapons: From poisoned darts, to large two-handers to crossbow. Each weapon has it’s own flair. It’s not a huge combat improvement, but still an improvement nonetheless and most importantly, still very fun.

But you know what? I really like the Assassin’s Creed series, a lot. The overarching plot is a bit ludicrous, but I love the gameplay and there has been a notable and steady improvement with every title. I love the blend of fictionalized history with a science fiction edge. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood picks up literally right where Assassin’s Creed II left off (and in those few moments between games Ezio has managed to grow a beard?). If you haven’t played the second game, Brotherhood will make little to non sense. Similarly, if for whatever Godforsaken reason you did not enjoy the second game, Brotherhood won’t change your mind because it’s very similar. Highly recommended. Go stabify people.

…I am still convinced that Leonardo is mad at me. I can see the disappointment in his eyes, even after all these years (or months?). I would have bro hugged you if I had known 🙁

The Logitech G13 Gamepad


Edit: My WoW configuration is posted here if anyone is intersted.

Just a little background: I have been using the Belkin n52te and its predecessor the n52 for a number of years. It’s a great device, great functionality, pretty decent software and an okay(ish) build quality. The software though hasn’t been updated in quite some time. I don’t think that Windows 7 is listed as a supported operating system (I mean, it works fine, but still). But that aside, the computer peripheral itch hit me once again so here I am, with yet another gamepad: The Logitech G13. So, this post isn’t so much a review as it is a semi-comparison to the n52.

It is also worth noting, just as a general preface to any gamepad: These devices really shine in MMOs and perhaps PC RPGs with a crapload of buttons. After binding every single ability and overcoming the learning curve, there was a notable improvement in my performance and reaction time. It  does though take an amount of time to create a profile, bind shortcuts and learn the layout for a possibly not very long computer game. So if you are a WoW player, highly recommended, especially for classes with an enormous amount of keybindings. Other game genres like first person shooters? Not so much.

As always, with any peripheral, ergonomics will differ according to hand size and personal preference. You really need to give the G13 a test drive on a store display or at a friend’s place before purchasing it. From my experience, it is suitable for people with medium to large hands. I find the gamepad comfortable with my average sized chick hands, though I do have to awkwardly stretch my fingers over to hit the G1, G7, G8 and G14 keys. Small handed folk may want to find another alternative.

G13 itself is much more comfortable than I thought it would be. I was initially worried about it’s curvature. It is much flatter in comparison to the n52 and was under the impression that it would feel awkward or something. I am actually finding the G13 to be less of a strain after extended play periods. The palm rest is textured nicely and the flatter design is more in tune with how my hand wants to naturally rest. I have two ergonomic gripes though.


One, I wish that the thumbstick was a bit closer. One element that I really liked about the n52’s design was how the D-pad was angled. In terms of location and distance, it sat exactly where my thumb wanted to sit. I have to stretch my thumb over a little on the G13; It’s not uncomfortable but it doesn’t feel optimal. The thumbstick’s hat is also a little small for my taste. I wish it were a little bigger.

Two, I wish that the first 2 columns of keys (G1, G2, G8, G9 and G15) were shifted downwards by perhaps a quarter of an inch. The first column of keys on the n52 are slightly lower (along the horizontal axis) than the other 4 columns, which makes sense seeing as how most human left hands have pinkies that are shorter than the other 4 fingers.

In terms of build quality, I have always been very pleased with Logitech’s peripherals.The G13 is no exception: it is a very well constructed and solid device. I mean, it has to be at least 5 times heavier than the n52. The thumbstick doesn’t creek and the paint doesn’t look like it’s going to wear off. It feels premium. My n52te still works, but there is notable wear and I am wondering if I will run into key sticking problems in the future. If the keys on the G13 are of the same make as Logitech’s gaming keyboard line then I shouldn’t have any problems. As far as the LCD goes, it’s almost identical to the LCD on the original G15 keyboard. The one thing that I really miss about the G15 LCD was the ability to see who was talking on Vent without having to tab in and out.


Ergonomics aside, if you are already used to playing with a gamepad then there isn’t much of a learning curve. You can pretty much transfer your entire n52 layout over button for button with leftovers (the G13 has way more bindable keys). By the way, using the LUA scripting future build into the keypad software, you can even retain the n52’s shift state toggle functionality. For example, on my WoW profile (default state being M1), the G11 key will activate hotbar slot 3. When my WoW profile is set to M2, the G11 key will activate the map. I have thumb button G23 bound to momentarily shift into M2 when pressed and back to M1 when released. So in order to activate my map, all I need to do is press both G23 and G11 at the same time.

I will go over my WoW profile in a later post when I finalize it, but in a nutshell, I have combat abilities bound in M1, menu items (map, bags, talents) bound in M2 and extras like the raid icons and recount screens bound in M3. If anyone needs it, I can also post my LUA script. Oh: The thumb buttons on the G13 are a lot easier to press than the n52’s thumb button.

If I haven’t already mentioned it: The Logitech’s software is really pretty nice. It uses the same configuration program for their gaming keyboard line (as you can probably see in the screenshot). The G13 is a bit expensive for what it is, but that’s just the way it is with gaming peripherals, or so it seems. As mentioned above, try all of the gamepads out in the store before buying one. If you are impartial, you might as well just get the G13. It has better software, it’s built better and has more buttons.

If anyone is curious, size comparison:

Uncharted 2

I better post this before I disappear into the world of Minecraft again. Sorry, did a pretty shoddy proofing reading and editing job, even for me. I was looking for a new console game to fix on a few weeks back and ended up purchasing Uncharted 2. TL;DR, it’s really fun, go buy/rent it. I really didn’t know what to expect from this game, it was a title that I have heard of multiple times, heard that it was fantastic, but just blew off because of a time constraint or general lack of interest. More specifically, at the time it seemed like a generic action game, in that it didn’t fill one of my fantasy/sci-fi weakness niches so I passed on it.

In some sense, it is a generic action game: Nathan Drake, from a design standpoint is such a normal character. He’s un-noteworthy to a point: He doesn’t have an eye-patch, a mechanical arm or super powers. There’s not a whole lot that stands out about him on a surface perspective, which is what I think makes him a great character. There’s no gimmick or “miracle.”  Nathan Drake and the cast of Uncharted 2 are believable characters to the extent that I think players get the feeling that if they were a little more athletic and well studied, they too could climb walls and partake in wonderful adventures. It creates a connection rarely seen in a game nowadays.

Uncharted 2 is cinematic. It plays out like an interactive movie, which in game speak translates to a well paced plot-based linear title. The action scenes are artfully scripted, the dialogue is well placed and well written, and the cutscenes are plentiful, but well done and don’t overstay their welcome. In fact, many could have been cutscenes were replaced by (for lack of a better term) playable scenes.

Uncharted 2’s gameplay is pretty standard fair in terms of action games. Much of the gameplay reminds me of Assassin’s Creed in the, climbing around and jumping on things sense (but without the sandbox element). The free running and climbing is very fluid if not a bit obvious, since much of it consists of searching for conspicuous bricks and ledges sticking out from walls, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it feels very very similar control wise, so having played Assassin’s Creed not so long ago, there wasn’t really a learning curve which is nice (because apparently, my game attention span has shrunk).

The camera angles are very deliberate; it’s like a movie and its director: We are supposed to experience certain scenes from a certain angle. It works well for the story and the game’s atmosphere at a small sacrifice to gameplay (in my opinion at least). Any time a game takes control of the camera, console games especially, awkward control situations are created. For example: At one point a truck is chasing you. the camera pans around to a full frontal shot so that Drake is running towards you with the truck speeding after him in the background. You are supposed to run and gun, but which way do you  hold the stick? Are the controls reversed because the camera is reversed? The point of reference tends to change with some frequency and that just feels really really odd to me as a primary PC gamer. It’s not that big of a deal, but camera antics are a personal pet peeve.

The combat felt a little weak for an action title. Aiming and targetting is a little cludgy and the cover system doesn’t feel as natural as it should. Much of the ranged combat also felt somewhat off. I mean, in what magical land, real life, gaming or otherwise are headshots not insta-kills? Did they just not register or do they really take two or three headshots to go down. Awkward. Uncharted 2 also suffers from Obvious Level Design Syndrome, though to a pretty minor extent: You walk into a large round room with boxes and other low cover walls strewn about. There are two doors off on the opposite side. What are the odds that a swarm of enemies are about to rush?

Even so, the combat system is fun and doesn’t feel like a chore. You have the option of sneaking up and stealth killing an enemy, going balls out and rushing, taking a cautious ranged approach or any number of strategies. There are a surprising number of combat options depending on both level and weapons available. One method might work well for one particular scene whereas poorly in another.

I, being a primary PC gamer am usually poo-poo about console graphics, but I was legitimately impressed with Uncharted 2, specifically its color palette. This game is notably color. As in, a game that actually achieves a realistic graphical design (as opposed to cartoony or abstract) while using colors extended beyond shades of brown and browner. Amidst, drably designed “modern” games, Uncharted 2 is a shining jewel. Seriously, it’s vibrant.

Uncharted is a visual treat. The environment is lush, detailed and quite varied; Ranging from jungles, to temples, to snowy mountains. The shadowing is gorgeous and the visual design is pleasing. There were a couple occasions in which I hit an invisible wall, but not many. The game boundaries and level flow are presented naturally enough not to notice. Nothing breaks immersion more than a game element sticking out like a sore thumb. Speaking of which, instead of having a giant bar across the screen, color is also used to indicate Drake’s health level. As he takes dangerous amounts of damage, the game’s color saturation will fade, when you are about to die it’s black and white.

Uncharted 2 isn’t the most original game. It’s one part Indiana Jones and one part Tomb Raider, mashed together in cinematic video game form. It also doesn’t excel in any particular area (though as mentioned before, the graphics are very impressive). What it does provide though, are a variety of experiences neatly tied together in a package that has been polished to a mirror shine. It’s the kind of game that will make you wonder why other similar games aren’t as fun and polished. Well worth buying.

Review: Alien Swarm


I lament, often on an almost daily basis about the lack of co-op support in our modern gaming society. So lo and behold what do the Valve Gods gift us with? An up to 4-player co-op game for free! Alien Swarm was originally an Unreal Tournament mod released in 2004. This release was actually developed by the original team after they had been scooped up by Valve (according to Wikipedia). It’s a top down 3rd person shooter with a sci-fi flavor. There’s not a whole lot in terms of plot, but that is not important. The only facts that need be known are that there are waves of aliens to kill on a space ship with your real life buddies.

You have a choice between four different classes and eight unique characters. Each player gets to choose a main and secondary item. You have 40 to choose from, they range from rifles, shotguns, sentry guns, to health and ammo packs. Most of the items are unlocked via a horizontal leveling system as in, you get more items at each level not better. Each class also has a unique class item. With two people playing co-op it took a bit of strategy in terms of what to pick. We had two people total playing last night and it took a bit of trial and error to figure out what worked for us.

Alien Swarm is a very nice looking game. The texturing is very nice, shadowing is very nice, the lighting is very nice. If there’s one thing that the Steam engine has always been good at it’s scalable graphical output per performance. Even with the graphics turned up to high and with the nice particle effects, I didn’t notice any slowdown or frame drop at all, no many how many mobs were on the screen. I will include a couple of screenshots at the bottom of this post so that you all can judge yourselves. If anyone wants video, I am sure that by now hundreds have been posted on YouTube.

The interface is for the most part very nice with a plethora of nice Steam touches: Steam stats, achievements, integrated voice chat, the ability to doodle on the map, etc. A few of the interface elements are confusing though. I feel as if there is probably a better way to handle the ammo and health notifications. Reloading confused me for a bit since you have to continuously glance down at the corner of the screen. There’s also little notification as to when you are reloading save for a small animation. I suppose I should know better. I mean, the party bars at the bottom are laid out in a WoW like fashion.

The controls are fairly straightforward: It’s a dual stick shooter. WASD for movement and mouse for aiming and shooting. Most of the weapon options are introduced as you play the game, though you may want to glance at them for reference. The keybindings are by default setup oddly. A few of them weren’t intuitive to how I usually bind things. It’s not that big of a deal, you just may want to check on all of the keybinding settings before jumping online to play.

Alien Swarm is short: It is one campaign with six levels. But fear not. Conveniently enough, the SDK was also released with the game so hopefully it won’t take people too long to jump on the player generated content bandwagon. Valve provided a sturdy foundation from which to build from; The rest is now up to us. Either way it’s not like one could complain too much, being completely free and all. Pick Alien Swarm up, grab a friend or three and play it. It’s fun and you have absolutely nothing to lose.

The Assassin’s Creed Series

You see folks, this why I can never ever run a serious, as in, “professional” gaming blog. I’m just never current on anything that isn’t World of Warcraft, The Sims or the one or two other games that I am interested in enough to pre-order and actually post about before they go out of style (I also never post, but that is a different issue :P). But that aside:

Assassin’s Creed was a good game, not great by any measure, but good; It just failed to live up to the massive amount of hype constantly being pushed out at the time. I think the most disappointing aspect of the game wasn’t necessarily the repetition (though the repetition was pretty bad, I had to force myself to complete the game), but that it felt half-assed. Most people compare it too a tech demo, demonstrating the crowd reaction engine and I think that is for the most part an accurate assesment.

The overarching plot of the series is if anything, predictable if not somewhat ludicrous but I like the premise. Even though I know that the whole Animus deal is a plot gimmick, I feel that it works within the context of the game. I also like the duality between Desmond and his ancestor(s). I kind of wish that Assassin’s Creed 2 had more out-of-Animus scenes, they provided a pacing break in the gameplay (I know that am probably the only one who feels that way….).

Assassin’s Creed 2 plays out like a fluid narrative rather than a sequence of grind quests stapled together. Oh and by narrative I mean a nice variety of tasks to complete. There is a cohesive though somewhat ludicrous plot, there are characters and there are cinematics. If nothing else, it is very polished in both presentation and appearance. The bloom is way overdone, but the environments are vibrant and well designed. Unlike the first game, this game is more like what one would expect from the Playstation 3 in terms of quality.

Anyway, Assassin’s Creed 2: It is to say the least, a lot more fun than the first game. It’s more polished and rounded off with Prince of Persia style platforming mixed in with Grand Theft Auto style opendedness and side quests. The free running works a lot better than the first game in my opinion; The cities are constructed with to allow you to jump around more naturally.

No singular element in Assassin’s Creed 2 really stands out or shines. The combat system, though a little bit better than the first game still suffers from the same downfalls. You can now stab people in a couple more ways but ultimately it still boils down to just hitting the square or the circle button at the appropriate moment. Too many things on too few buttons. The side quests don’t vary too much from stabbing things or collecting things. Also, social camouflaging is great in theory but somewhat poor in execution: I really love the idea of crowd blending and being able to play in a more organic environment, but the way that it is implemented and the way the AI reacts in the game is very limiting. In practice it still feels like a game.

But you know what? I had a lot of fun playing this game. It’s not often that I play a game through completion nowadays; In fact sadly, I can probably name the games that I have actually finished this year on one hand. No single element in this game is particularly great but together all of the elements sum up to a very attractive package.

This is just a personal gripe/tangent, but: I know that the 6 assassin’s tombs are 100% optional side quests, but did those for the most part, annoy the hell out of anyone else? Jumping puzzles suck enough on the PC with full control over a mouse and keyboard. They suck to an entirely new degree when you have little to no control over where the camera pans.

By the way: The official assassin’s hand sign thing that Lucy flashes you in the first game is totally The Shocker isn’t it? 😛

The Sims 3: Ambitions


Job related content or rather, the distinct lack thereof has traditionally been a huge gaping hole in every single Sims game. Normally your sims choose a career path: Medical, business, food, whatever. In terms of gameplay, that career consists of little more than vanishing into a building for about 8 gameplay hours 5 days a week. Assuming that all of your sims have a regular job/school, that is almost a fourth of the game per sim spent doing almost nothing.

Ambitions is good because it allows to you to actively control your sim at work. I won’t bother explaining the details for all of the new professions because that has already been done and uuuh I haven’t played them all to be honest. The new profession objectives are fun, though fairly typical in what you would expect from the Sims style click based gameplay (run around, click, do something, repeat). I like the stylist and the architect professions because they affect the outward appearance of the town and its people (it is fun giving people pink mullets :P).

Twinbrook is the new town set in a half-flooded southern swamp-ish area. It’s well designed with a lot of atmosphere and character and show cases some of the new graphical effects. My one complaint is that it is very limited in size to the point where there is absolutely no where to place a 64×64 lot to start a Legacy Challenge.

I am going to hold my tongue on this one, but I haven’t encountered any serious glitches yet. I am sure though, that the serious game breaking bugs will surface in time (like the World Adventures family tree glitch which to date has not been fixed or really discussed much at all). By the way, I repeated the exact same thing from this post on the Ambitions executable to enable large addresses. My game has not crashed yet.

Ambitions isn’t a radical addition to the Sims 3. Even though the professions are fun to play and do actually add core gameplay to the franchise, they generally fail to integrate into the old career paths (with the exception of the medical career), to the point where there is a stark contrast. The old careers are boring in comparison to the new professions and I don’t really see myself ever going back to them. But, ultimately, Ambitions only adds 6 professions to the game which isn’t that much content for a long term play sort of game. Still, it is nice to see an expansion that isn’t based off of adding another loading zone ala World Adventures.

Final Fantasy XIII


Whoops, this post (which has been sitting in my temp stack for two months like well all of my posts) turned into a mish mash rant of sorts. So a history first: A close elementary school friend actually introduced the Final Fantasy to me while we were in day care or something. I had received Final Fantasy I as a birthday or a Christmas gift that year or something and it was the most awesome thing evar. I actually fell in love with the series in high school/early college. That is when I more or less ultra binged on 6 through 8. I have Final Fantasy VIII wall scrolls, posters and action figures burried somewhere. My dorm room was like a shrine…

You will either love or hate Final Fantasy XIII; It’s just one of those divisive games, granted most opinions seem to lean towards the hate side. There’s a fine art to tutorial balancing that Square Enix obviously does not understand. At all. I mean, a 15 hour long tutorial, really?

But past the slow start, both the story and gameplay pick up quit ea bit. If you find the game boring initially, it is. Just grin and bear it. I am actually having a lot of fun so I will take back most of the nasty things that I was originally going to say. I take that back, this game is such a grind: Grind grind grind, short movie, grind grind. Uninspiring and cliche anime characters, bland dialogue at best (grating at worst), standard JRPG story. Final Fantasy XIII isn’t even much of an RPG anymore, it’s a bland action game without the part with the action fighting. What the hell happened?

Massive criticism aside, Final Fantasy XIII is an interesting addition to the longstanding series because it marks a very clear way in which the developers perceive the series. Quite a few gameplay and design changers were made, some of which paid off. Overall, the package fails to deliver as a whole.

So here is problem number one: While the pacing is very consistent and while enemies are fairly well placed, it is still such a huge grind. There is a huge emphasis on the combat system, which I like to some extent. The paradigm system is very fast paced and forces you to swap roles rapidly on many occasions.

In fact, the paradigm system would have been awesome if it wasn’t dumbed down. The auto attack button effectively allows you to spam ‘X’ 90% of the time. There no more random battles, and fewer enemies, which are strategically placed along your journey.  But to make up for that, some of the trash pulls are just so long. They aren’t even fast paced fun trash battles. It is as if all they did was jack their health pools up by a factor of 10. I mean, if you really wanted to, it really isn’t hard to use the pathing system to avoid most enemy encounters. But if you do that too often, your characters will be so far behind the ‘leveling’ curve (if you can even call it that), that future encounters will be near impossible. You are fucked if you do and fucked if you don’t.

So back to the pacing: Final Fantasy XIII is a very controlled experience, obviously paced with calculation which is a huge change over the traditional, wander around town, hit dungeon, wander around town paradigm. It is also shamelessly linear, which on the plus side eliminates the forced exploration. Let’s face it: All RPGs are linear, Western games are just better at hiding it. The pacing is too consistent. I miss the cliche RPG towns. Towns provided a good break in the grinding and also provided a different method of exploring character development in a more casual setting. Final Fantasy XIII is effectively a string of dungeons taped together. It is…a never ending grind, boss, grind, boss pattern.

The characters story and dialogue feel watered down. It’s not that bad per se, it’s just that at the time I had first picked up FFXIII, I had just finished playing Mass Effect 2 and before that, Dragon Age. So silly spoiled me just expected all RPGs to have decent-ish writing and dialogue or at the very least, engaging gameplay to make up for the lack of writing and dialogue.

JRPGs are feeling very tired as a genre because they haven’t changed or evolved all that much in the past decade or so, especially when oyu compare them to what other RPGs have to offer.  But to be fair, I have pretty much outgrown this genre. It’s clearly designed to appeal to a demographic that does not include myself (not a teenager anymore).

The gameplay changes are interesting but not ‘interesting’ enough to sustain the genre in my opinion. JRPGs are feeling tired, they haven’t changed much. Especially when you compare them to what Bioware has to offer. But to be fair, I think I’ve just outgrown the genre. It’s clearly designed to appeal to a demographic that is not me (not a teenager anymore). Square, I commend you for making an active effort to change the series but WTF.

On the plus side: The sky production as expected is super sky high. I mean, that game is gorgeous and some of the cut scenes are a real treat to watch. Well the good thing about it being super ass linear is that when I pick it up again in like, a year after feeling kind of bad about paying $60 for a game and not finishing it, I probably won’t feel lost to the point of having to restart the game.

And, sorry Kotaku: I totally just plucked your screenshot (which probably is just a stock image from a press release) off of Google Image because I was too lazy to take my own.