Game finished: 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
Image via Wikipedia

Continuing my trawl through games I started then set aside, last weekend I completed 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. This is a dumb, fun, 3rd person cover based shooter. It’s a riff on the same gameplay mechanics in Gears of War 1 and 2 with an over the top plot and mixed production values. The story follows the adventures of 50 cent and his crew in the middle east. They get ripped off by a concert promoter who offers them a jewel encrusted skull in lieu of payment. This also gets ripped off and 50 cent and his buddies spend the rest of the game shooting and cussing their way through various middle eastern locales in their quest to retrieve the skull. This game has no pretensions of grandeur – it’s the videogame equivalent of a B-movie and it pretty much delivers. The graphics, models, and audio are all middle of the road, but the feel is solid and the game isn’t long enough to wear out its welcome. It has a bit of arcade scoring in the mix, where stringing together insults and combos raise a score multiplier, but for the most part I just ignored this and blew through the levels. I only busted out a curse/combo now and then as I unlocked new curses, for the laughs rather than to help with the score.

You can find this game for under $20 new and often for under $10, and it’s worth it for the laughs at under $10. It won’t win any awards for originality but it’s a fun ride while it lasts.

Video below of some gameplay and cutscenes to give you a sense of it. I finished it on the xbox 360, it’s available for the PS3 as well. It’s got an average of ~72 over on metacritic, and that feels about right to me.

Game Finished: Gears of War 2

Gears of War
Image via Wikipedia

I’m still on a roll, finishing games at a rapid clip. Susan was out of town for several days at a conference which also helped.

It’s clear Gears of War 2 was written for 15 year old males, and for the most part I hated it. I disliked the first one and traded it in before finishing it, and ended up with the sequel because of a buy 2 get 1 free sale at Gamestop. I’d heard the sequel was an improvement on the original, and it probably is on a technical level, but the abysmally stupid plot, awful dialog, and mediocre game mechanics all drag the thing down into ‘don’t bother playing this dog’ territory. The script writers are channeling braindead hollywood action flicks from the 80s, think, say ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando‘ level dumb dialog. Lots of folks loved this game (it’s got a 93 rating over on metacritic for example) – I guess I’m just not in the target audience for this one. My appreciation for it wasn’t helped by the fact that I played it right after Halo ODST, a game with a refined combat and gameplay aesthetic that Gears of War 2 compares very poorly to. The one positive thing I can say is that the game does have some imaginative settings with impressive scope, especially when you venture underground into vast cavernous areas with ancient temples, sunken cities, and a giant worm out to get you – that part was a visual treat. Everything else…I disliked.

The clip below plays some of the cutscenes from the game and gives a pretty good idea of why I disliked the game. Video quality’s not that great but the audio is really the point. Don’t play this with other people around, it’s definitely NSFW.

Game finished: Halo O.D.S.T.

Halo 3 - Master Chief
Image by Ricardo Saramago via Flickr

I finished Halo O.D.S.T. (aka Orbital Drop Ship Troopers), the 4th game in the Halo series (or like the 8th, if you count the Marathon games as the spiritual predecessors they were) over the weekend. I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected. I’ve solved all the Halo games at this point, including 2 of them in coop, and I figured I had seen everything the Halo games had to see at this point, plus Halo 3 concludes the Master Chief‘s story arc, and I sort of figured without the Master Chief I wouldn’t be interested.

I only ended up getting the game because Toys R Us had a buy 2 get 1 free sale after Thanksgiving and I couldn’t find anything else I was interested in. My first session with the game seemed to confirm my suspicion – been there, done that, I thought, and I quickly set the game aside for others. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to clear out my game backlog before buying any new games though, and I love buying new games, so I returned to it and warmed up to it as I played.

The Halo series does a pretty good job with their basic combat mechanics, and their level design focuses on setting up repeated ‘situations’ or skirmishes that require tactical thinking, skill, and sometimes a little luck. The same skirmish can play out wildly differently each time you approach it after a failure too, which helps enormously with enjoyment. In terms of what ODST brings to the party this time around…well, not much new. Some tweaks to the weapons, graphics, vehicles, a lack of the more resilient Master Chief, and that’s about it. The relatively short plot follows the misadventures of a squad of soldiers on a mission in a city under siege by alien invaders. It’s told non-linearly, and while in the end it’s not that exciting, by the standards of most first person shooters it’s actually pretty solid. I played on normal difficulty and either the game is fairly easy or I’ve played enough Halo games to do really well at them, because I mostly found it pretty easy.

The one new thing that ODST does bring to the table is a multiplayer mode called Firefight that’s pretty fun – it’s basically the human players versus increasingly powerful waves of AI characters in skirmish battles. It’s tough, frantic, and a good deal of fun. The rest of the multiplayer is basically what you see in Halo 3 with a bunch of additional maps included, including some which were DLC for Halo 3.

So – would I recommend it? Qualified yes – if you’ve played Halo games and really enjoyed them, no question, you should pick it up. If you’re a singleplayer only player, well, it’s a tougher call. The single player is fun and well designed and has an above average story for the genre, but it’s also fairly short. If you’re a Halo 3 multiplayer fan, it’s probably worth picking up just for the Firefight mode alone.

Game Finished: Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty

Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty
Image via Wikipedia

I’m on a roll thanks to one of my New Year’s resolutions. I finished Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty earlier in the week. It’s a short coda to the previous game, Tools of Destruction, and explains how Ratchet figures out where Clank is after he…disappears at the end of Tools of Destruction. I scored the next game in the series, Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time on sale over Christmas and I wanted to finish this game so I could move on its sequel. This is the 8th (!!!) Ratchet and Clank game and it doesn’t bring much new to the table. There’s more of a focus on puzzle solving than in the previous games, and it’s really short, maybe 3-4 hours long, but it’s still got the trademark Ratchet and Clank humor and I enjoyed it well enough. The series features run and gun arcade adventure with some light puzzle solving, a lot of saturday morning cartoon humor, and generally great graphics. I’ve played all of them and solved several of them, including this one, but if you’re going to skip one, this is the one. Counterbalancing that is it’s cheap – I got it for $9.99 from the Playstation store as a download. Below is an ~8 minute video showing off some of the gameplay. Bottom line, if you’ve played the previous games and enjoyed them, you’re likely to enjoy this one as well.

New Year’s resolutions

I’m a bit behind, granted. I have a good excuse – came down with pneumonia and it really knocked the stuffing out of me. I’m just starting to feel myself again after fighting this off for three weeks, and I’m still fighting a cough and dealing with fatigue issues. Anyway, I made two resolutions this year: To get back on track with my diet and exercise regimen, and to follow an example I set myself several years ago with my buying habits.

The diet and exercise resolution has turned out to be easy thanks to the bout of pneumonia. My weight had been creeping up and by this fall I was over 180 for the first time in a number of years, something I had begun to worry about. Stomach issues and a generally slacker attitude to exercise had me off my regimen for almost all of the summer and fall, so I figured, time for a new years resolution to address it. Pressures off now though – I’m down under 170 for the first time in at least 4-5 years. I just need to keep it off. As soon as my stamina is back it’s back on the exercise regimen, possibly adding in running, which I haven’t done regularly since I left Maine.

The second resolution is inspired by a successful resolution from years ago. At that time I had gotten addicted to buying books off of Abe books, ebay, and Amazon, and my to-read pile was growing faster than my read pile was decreasing. I resolved to only buy a book after I had finished at least one, and to generally focus on bringing down the number of books in the to-read pile. It worked. I still have a huge to-read pile (>20 books) but it no longer grows and it’s no longer close to 100 books. This year I’m applying these principles to videogames, because my to-play pile is like 15 games at this point and maybe higher. I’ve resolved to not buy a new game unless I finish one, and to focus on finishing off games I’ve left partially completed. I have this terrible habit of starting whatever new game I acquire, playing it obsessively for a week or two until the next game comes, then moving on, rarely finishing anything. No more! I’m working my way through games at a rapid clip, and not opening anything still in the shrinkwrap until I knock games off the list. So far it’s working – I’ve finished 4-5 games since the year began, and this was with me unable to play games for two weeks thanks to the pneumonia.

I’m such a hopeless nerd.

I’ve also put myself on a budget. rocks for helping you see where you spend your money. I spend too much of mine on games, and that’s stopping as well.

Anyway, to sum up a rambling post, figure on a lot of  ‘Game finished’ posts from me, especially over the next couple of months, as I focus on a game at a time instead of flitting from game to game.

Game finished: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I was surprised how much I liked this game. I finished it on the PS3 over the weekend. On paper, you’d think I would hate this game – there’s not a lot of variety in terms of the enemies you face, by and large it’s a slightly disguised corridor crawler, the graphics are pretty good but the framerate can get low at times, some of the boss battles are really tedious (Gambit, who you fight like 97 times), it’s incredibly repetitive, you can exploit the combat system (grabs are really powerful) and there are a number of annoying scripted quicktime events (ie you have to press the correct button or sequence of buttons at the correct time). The game has two really important things going for it though – the combat is fast and fluid and an absolute blast (and it’s what you spend 99% of the game doing) , and the game captures the essence of Wolverine as ruthless baddass more than any game ever has. It’s one of the best superheroes in tights videogames ever. *

The game loosely follows the plot of the recent (mediocre, I thought) film, fleshing out various areas of the plot with more opportunities for combat and adding in a huge section of flashback material that’s only slightly touched on in the film, but it also strays far afield in parts. The game’s actually up for an award for the script which surprised me when it was announced – not that the game’s script is terrible or anything, it’s above average for this genre but really, that’s not saying much. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s basically an origin story but it jumps around in time a fair bit to tell the story.

Gameplay wise it’s an arcade brawler at heart, with a thin veneer of rpg layered on which allows you to increase the power, number, and styles of attacks, recuperative powers, and special abilities Wolverine has as the game progresses. There’s also some light collectathon stuff going on in the form of dogtags on the corpses of fallen comrades and wolverine statues which unlock challenge missions.

The game’s sort of the videogame equivalent of junkfood – nothing beyond capturing the essence of Wolverine is done especially well in this game, most of the gameplay systems are mediocre riffs on mechanics you’ve seen before, but on the whole it comes together as a fun little brawler.

Below is a video of one of my favorite sections of the game, wherein Wolverine manages to take down a Sentinel. Few things will make you feel more baddass than that 😉

* One caveat here – I have not yet played Batman: Arkham Asylum yet, and it’s supposed to be even better.

Game ‘finished’: Timeshift

Truth be told, I didn’t quite finish Timeshift. I fought all the way to the final boss battle and after trying it about a dozen times gave up in disgust and read a summary of what happens at the end. Up until that point I had by and large had a pretty good time with Timeshift though, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an inexpensive first person shooter. It’s a bit gimmicky and the plot is disposable nonsense about a stolen time travel suit, but the core run and gun gameplay is solid, the level design is ok, the graphics and sound are decent, and the gimmicky time powers are actually kind of fun.

There’s a ~10 minute video of the gameplay below to give you a sense of it. I played the game on the Xbox360 but it’s available for other platforms as well including the PC. I never tried the multiplayer so I can’t comment on that. Its main distinction from other FPS is the time power suit you have, which gives you 3 powers you can activate (slow, reverse, stop) which are tied to a power bar which recharges over time. Many of the game’s levels require the use of one of the powers to progress, but it dumbs things down by helpfully auto-selecting the appropriate power so long as you hit the activate button at the right time. At first this annoyed me but I pretty quickly figured out the game was going for full on non-stop action and this design choice fit in with that pretty well – why stop to think, just keep shooting son and it will all work out. That plus the fact that firing off your slo-mo or stop time power and laying a beatdown on the enemies never got old  and was a blast slowly raised my opinion of the game as I played through it. I’d give it a 4 out of 5. You can score the console version for $10-20 used and I’ve seen the PC version for under $10 in bargain racks. At that price the game’s definitely worth checking out if it sounds like it’s up your alley. Make me an offer an you can have my copy for the 360 – I paid $20 for it. Here’s the video:

Finished Dead Space on PS3

Susan and I finished Dead Space on the PS3 last week. All in all it’s a pretty great game. I handled the controls while Susan played copilot, mostly because of her lack of familiarity with 3d gaming. We had a lot of pretty creepy fun playing through it. The game’s a 3rd person action adventure game which seems to be inspired by the Resident Evil series of games. In many ways it’s superior to most of the games in that series. It’s also clearly been influenced by the System Shock series and it has some light RPG elements in the form of suit and weapon upgrades.

Graphically the game is beautiful – in fact it’s one of the best looking games I’ve played on the PS3. There’s great use of light and shadow, very detailed textures, excellent models and animation, and great art direction.

Audio is similarly superb – it’s one of the best sounding games I’ve played on the PS3 as well and the voice acting was great.

Gameplay is a mixed but mostly positive bag. On the downside, the game’s fairly repetitive, and while the ship is realistic and the game breaks up the corridor crawling with some great action set pieces in very large spaces, there’s still a ton of corridor crawling and it can get old. The controls are tight but the weapons are a mixed bag – some seem much more effective than others no matter how you upgrade them and it’s difficult to know where to spend your resources effectively. The difficulty seemed pretty fair on medium. There are a number of physics and logic puzzles to work out, often while under fire from multiple enemies, and these were some of the highlights of the game.

The plot was just ok – it starts out like a riff on the plot from Aliens, with you and your crew dispatched to rescue an orbital mining operation that sent out a distress signal then stopped communicating, but it morphs into a muddle of religion, government conspiracy, double crosses, alien artifacts and a mutating alien lifeform that’s has some similarities to the one in the classic John Carpenter movie The Thing. It wasn’t bad by any means but by the end Susan and I were weary of it.

The game has one other superb attribute – it’s got one of the best interfaces I’ve seen in a game. Most everything you do and interact with in the game you do via a 3d computer interface that projects out of the spacesuit you’re wearing or out of objects you encounter. It’s really well done and I hope more games mimic it.

I picked this up used for $35 but would have been just as happy paying $60 retail for it – it’s a really great game and well worth a look.

Here’s a video to give you a sense of gameplay and graphics:

Game finished: Monster Madness

This is possibly the worst game I’ve ever finished. Susan and I played through the action game Monster Madness, finishing last night after a couple of weeks of chipping away at it level by level. If you’re familiar with the old arcade game Gauntlet, or more recent action brawlers like the Xmen series of games on consoles, you have a general sense of the gameplay – top down camera, 1-4 players romping through the gameworld bashing the badguys.The best thing I can say about the game is that the concept was solid – fight your way through a modern day world overun with all the monsters from horror movies and legend colored with a satirical spin. Everything else? Terrible. The audio was apparantly downsampled or recorded at a really low bit rate, the voice acting was awful, the plot itself (4 heavily stereotyped teens out to save the world) was terrible, and the game was full of bugs – your character gets stuck on and in things, you randomly warp around the screen if the game gets bogged down, the framerate is highly variable but trending towards too low, and while it featured a ton of variety in weapons I ended up spending most of the game just whacking things with my default melee weapon because it was just overkill with the gadgets and dozens of alternate weapons.

Why we managed to finish this thing is hard to say. We like playing through coop together in games and we didn’t have any other handy options is I guess the main reason why. Anyway stay far away from this even if you find it cheap is my advice. I think I paid around $15 for it and that was too much. It’s available on PC, XBOX360 and PS3. We played on the PS3. Here’s a brief video to give you a sense of how the game plays:

Game finished: Lego Batman

Susan and I finished up Lego Batman this week. We had previously played through Lego Star Wars together. Lego Batman is more of the same, basically, but set in the Batman universe instead of in Star Wars. It’s a bit shorter than Lego Star Wars, though both are almost endless games in that there are a ton of achievements and hidden items to collect from levels even after you’ve beaten them. We both felt Batman was a bit easier, especially in the vehicle missions, and that this was a good thing – some of the Star Wars vehicle missions were pretty annoying. The game engine still has issues with perspective and jumping – sometimes you find it really hard to move along a narrow ledge or jump from one platform to another because you can’t gauge your position on the 3d plane – the developers could do more work here. Despite this, I’d recommend the game to anyone who’s a fan of the other Lego games, or who’s looking for a coop game to play with their significant other or kids – it’s great lightweight fun, not too challenging, and often funny.

I’ll probably pick up Lego Indiana Jones next, plus there are rumors of Lego Harry Potter coming this christmas, which seems like a natural fit for the series. I’m not sure what to make of the other rumor, which is that a Lego Rock Band game is coming. Meanwhile, check out the video below if you’re not already familiar with the Lego games: