A Tale of Two Space-Sims

Originally posted at GameSpot on December 13, 2007

So here I am, back in the saddle again. That saddle is placed squarely in the cockpit of X-Wing: Alliance and Freespace 2. I’ve put many hours into both of these games before, and I’ve got the itch again to try and see them through yet one more time.

In Freespace 2, I’ve started the game completely over for at least the second time. Each time a took a break from the game, it turned out to be a long break – long enough that I didn’t remember anything in the game. When I found the time to get back into it, I felt like I’m wasn’t getting the full experience if I just picked up where I had left off. There is so much going on each mission – Intel from wingmen chatter, mission briefing updates, etc. If I’m going to play the game again I want the best time I can get – which means starting over and getting the whole story from the first mission.

I’m currently on Mission 9: “A Lion at the Door.” Having just left the 53rd Hammerheads, I’m now a proud member of the 107th Ravens. In this mission I have to destroy a lot of pesky Shivans; so far, I’m 0/1 on attempts. I know I’ve previously been much farther in the game, but like I said – I want the most I can get.

All the things I love about the game are coming back to me, from the engaging story to the brooding music. And the game still looks incredible, even being almost nine years old. Did I mention the explosions and huge capital ships with beam weapons? Everything looks great and sounds better.

For X-Wing: Alliance, I’ve been able to pick up right where I left off- for two reasons: 1.) Thanks to my trusty Corellian YT-2000 transport Ortana, all my heirlooms from previous missions are safe and sound. By looking over those, I can remember what the story is about. 2.) Since it’s Star Wars, I was already grounded in the story and characters before I even started the game. It’s a simple formula – Rebels: good, Empire: bad. When I came to Alliance, I already knew half the story -which is not a bad thing in this case.

I’m stuck on Battle 4, Mission 1. For the life of me, I cannot keep my transports alive! I want my X-wing back. The family freighter is great and all, but after literally years of being stuck on this mission I’m ready to move on.

I think Ace Azzameen would agree with me.

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Dr. Mario and Tetris Attack!

Originally posted at GameSpot on November 28, 2007

This past Thanksgiving (November 22, 2007) was spent at my in-laws house, and a great time was had by all. Good food, great time with family, and all in the name of giving thanks to Christ. I could do with more of that.

As far as gaming goes, some cousins brought over the Wii and the latest Guitar Hero game (he had Guitar Hero III, I think). My daughter enjoyed dancing to that. We even busted out a little DDR. What better way to work off a little turkey?

What I found interesting, however, was not with the new but with the old. They also hooked up a SNES and had Dr. Mario and Tetris Attack! going. Both my mother and father-in-law love Dr. Mario; I’ve been told by reliable sources that they’ve been known to play for hours.

As far as Tetris Attack!, I think I’ll stick to plain ol’ Tetris. I didn’t really enjoy it that much – I enjoy the blocks coming down rather than coming up. But, to each his own. (It should be noted that this inspired me to play Tetris with my wife the next day.)

For the record, I stunk at both games. With a little practice I know I would start to enjoy them – but not yet.

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Cerebrations of the past tense

Originally posted at GameSpot on November 19, 2007

(Or, recent thoughts I’ve been meaning to get in here but haven’t had the time.)

These are not in order of importance, just simply how they’ve come into my brain:

Able to see World in Conflict over at my brother-in-law’s house a few weeks ago – the game was just as amazing as the GameSpot review made it out to be. The first thing that struck me was the graphics – stunning. The detail of the terrain, weather effects, lighting, and the smoothness at which the game ran was fantastic. True, he has a state-of-the-art PC that can handle the heavy load – but even at a lower resolution things would have looked great. The level he showed me also had some fun game play, which kept things moving with good voice acting and high drama. All that being said, it was a treat to see what’s currently out there as far as high-quality RTS.

On that same PC, he booted up Medieval II: Total War for me as well. Shogun Total War is one of my all-time favorite games, and I eventually hope to own the entire Total War series. Until then, however, this small taste will have to tide me over. Simply put, I can’t wait. It’s worth noting, however, that this game (from what I could tell) was more of what I was used to playing Shogun, just beefed up and expanded. That’s not to take away from the game at all – in fact, I see it as a compliment. I hope to spend many future hours with Medieval II and the whole series.

A few memories of old Tom Clancy games. My brother-in-law had the gold edition of the first Rainbow Six – a title I used to own – with all his other games. I never could really get into that game. If I had to nail it down, it probably was because I wasn’t that good at it. All the planning, all the map points, all the trial and error – it just didn’t add up to a fun experience. It came down to me executing a well-laid plan – and then doing just as well without said plan and shooting anything that moved.

I had to take back Band of Brothers. I appreciate the need to be realistic, but having the characters swear at least once every sentence made me pop and game out and take it right back to the store. To be fair, the first sequence in the game drops you right in the middle of a battle, and there’s no doubt a heavy amount of loud swearing would be taking place in that situation. Also, to be fair, I’m a father now – and I can’t have that crap on in the background. It’s too bad – I was really looking forward to getting into that game for awhile.

Currently playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, and I’m stuck at the second battle against Gothmog. I know I’ll re-visit this thought when I finish the game, but it’s not really “fun” to play. I love the source material, but that’s what carries me through. On its own, I would have stopped playing a while ago. There are some perks that stick out, and I’m glad I’ve been able to see them: 1.) Fighting (or playing as) the Balrog was sweet. His animation is done extremely well; I really feel like he’s a powerful enemy when he steps up to the plate. 2.) A sense of “being there.” Oh, it doesn’t happen a lot in the game – but when the sunset hits the wall of Helm’s Deep just right, I feel like I’m in the movie. 3.) Since the characters are the same models used in The Two Towers and Return of the King, I feel like I’m playing with weather-worn friends when they show up. I played as those characters for hours on the other games, so there’s a “welcome back” feeling when they join my party for a battle in The Third Age.

Unfortunately, a strong feeling of being boxed in by the game, big differences in difficulty from one second to the next, and a weak story (with Tolkien’s literature as a backdrop? How could they have a weak story?!) crush any of these small joys from making it a fun game. Will I ever finish it? Yes. Will I ever play it again? No.

We had a couple over this past Friday and they brought the Wii. I’ve been able to play the Wii at several friends’ houses’ and I really enjoy the console. I mean, you’ve got to love a gaming system that makes bowling that fun. My wife and I were also able to introduce them to Halo, and that was a lot of fun as well. I love that moment when someone says, “Well, we better get going…what time is it…12:40!? Just one of the many reasons why I enjoy this form of entertainment.

Warmed up Fable: The Lost Chapters and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: Substance this past weekend. Not really playing, just looking around. I wandered around a little in Fable, and watched the cut scenes from MGS2. I don’t have the time to play these games through again at this point, but a little remembrance tour always makes me feel good.

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Of Gladius and guilt

Originally posted at GameSpot on October 29, 2007

Guilty? Me? Does this even make sense? I find it amazing that even after nearly three years, I still have something that can best be described as guilt over returning Gladius to the store.

Where does this come from? Why would I even have these feelings after a decent amount of time has passed? I have a few theories:

-I want to know how it ends! I enjoy a good story – and games are no exception. This explains how I can have as much fun watching a game as well as playing (Metal Gear Solid), or how I can keep playing a game devoid of fun but from good source material (Star Trek: Klingon Academy).Gladius had a great story; slow-building but definitely there.

– I feel like I wimped out on the game. I started Gladius, and I should finish it. It’s that simple. I can’t stand starting a book or movie and not finishing it, and the same thing applies here.

– When a game garners high critical praise, it seems like I should have enjoyed the experience more. I use GameSpot a lot to help decide what purchases I should make. Gladius received a very respectable score (8.4), and that was important in my decision to pick the game up. I’m not blaming the high score at all, I just feel like I missed out on something.

So there you have it – the reasons for my “guilt.” Are they good enough reasons? I mean, do I deserve to feel like I messed up somehow by not sticking with the game? In the end, I think the answer is no. And here’s why:

First, you have to establish context. The main reason I didn’t stick with the game is being recently married, spending hours a day on a RPG that your wife finds incredibly boring tends to lead to some disagreement. If I want video games to be a part of my life now that I actually do have more important things going on, I need her on board if I’m going to play something for any length of time. Gladius didn’t make her cut, so that’s one huge strike against it.

Second, in keeping with context, I had only just begun to enter the world of RPGs. Some might not consider Knights of the Old Republic a true RPG, but it was the closest thing I had come to the genre so far. Going from the quick pace of that game to the slow walk of Gladius made it easier to let it go.

Third, the game’s high score does not have to reflect my own personal taste. This may seem an obvious fact – but I do put stock in what people in the industry say about a game, and I concede that their experienced opinion holds more weight than mine. That being said, I still don’t have to agree with it. With any game, it comes down to what I like – not what someone else tells me I should like. (I give you Panzar Dragoon Orta – I hated that game!)

To sum it all up, Gladius was a great game. It had a great world map and soundtrack. It had great cut scenes with dramatic flair. It had good combat system, interesting storyline, and fun characters. But, it wasn’t a great game for me. I think it is possible to label a game as great without personally liking it as the same time.

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The Rallisport Brothers

Originally posted at GameSpot on February 27, 2007

February 24, 2007 – My brother came over this past Saturday and we capped off a great afternoon with a little Rallisport Challenge. I hadn’t played the game in awhile, since I’m stuck at that insurmountable plateau I always seem to find.

That plateau is defined by me not get any closer to beating the game in roughly three years. It inevitably happens in every racing game I play. Burnout 3, Gotham Racing 2, etc., it doesn’t matter – I always get to a point that I can’t get any further. Every once in a while I’ll pick it up and try again, but I can never seem to get beyond my limit, so to speak. I keep buying racing games though – so I must get some fun out of it.

Having him over also made me remember how much fun it is to actually play with someone else. Not having Xbox Live or the Internet (my computer’s so slow I’m not sure if it could handle the double-click of a mouse on a webpage), it’s easy to forget.

I love my single-player world, but it’s nice to have a friend over now and again.

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You balvarine turd!

Originally posted at GameSpot on February 9, 2007

Thoughts on Fable: The Lost Chapters – First off, the atmosphere of the game was amazing. The most recent action RPG I’ve played was Knights of the Old Republic II, and that already had a pre-packaged world to build around. Fable had to start from the ground up, which is no small task.

But every area in the world, from the Guild to Hook Coast, was masterfully rendered and presented. Towns, taverns, shops and fauna were beautifully done to make an amazing world for the Hero to quest in.

The story was good, but it could have been better. How? How about this: if you want to build up tension for a climatic final battle with your arch-nemesis that will decide the fate of all of Albion – don’t do it by having the main character read about it in a book!

The only way to get a back story (other than cryptic remarks from your long lost sister) was to read about Jack of Blades, your bloodline, and the Sword of Aeons from some random text you hopefully picked up along your wanderings.

Jack of Blades could have been a great villain, but you don’t even hear of him until you’re captured by him a little over half way through the game. Then – before your know it – you have the showdown of the world with him! It just seemed to happen so fast, since there was no build up to it in the actual game world. A cut scene, or better yet some actual events in the game itself that revealed to you who (or what) Jack of Blades was, what your relationship was with him, how your family’s bloodline figured into all this, etc. would have really beefed up the tension for the final confrontation.

Instead, after Jack is defeated, the world seems pretty much the same. Because he didn’t affect it too much when he was around, his death doesn’t seem to rock anyone’s boat in the end. You’re told it does, but you can’t really see it. All in all, still a really good story – but it could have been great.

While the main story could have used a little more, the “game story” – the atmosphere in general (as I mentioned before) was fantastic. Being able to own homes and rent them out for money was especially satisfying, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I felt I was actually earning something on my own merit – I don’t know. If only I could have bought a shop or two…

Having the Guild be a place I could revisit anytime I wanted also brought a wholeness to the adventure. I love the exploring and constant travelling – but it was nice to have a place you “grew up in” that you could always return to.

I enjoy games that give me a sense of “hominess” – a sense that I belong to that world. Fable: The Lost Chapters certainly did that.

This game also has me wanting to play through on the evil side of things. Usually when I finish an RPG, there’s really no motivation to play through it again – even if there are slight changes with how the game ends. You can usually predict the outcome – and the same could be said of Fable’s ending. But since your character (and NPC’s reactions to him) really can change throughout the game, I really would like to see the other side of things.

A few bullet points to wrap this up:

Never had time to get married – kept putting it off, and now I’ve finished the game. Thank goodness life hasn’t imitated art!

– The singing guy in some of the towns was a nice touch – actually putting a few of my adventures into verse. Cool.

– The Chamber of Fate was sweet – I loved the tapestry and the bridge, just the sense of reverence the place gives.

– After reading a book in Maze’s quarters, I was able to find Avo’s tear (incredibly powerful sword – the ying to the Sword of Aeons yang). Since the main game was already over, I now had this sweet sword with nothing to swing it at. Would getting it sooner had made it sweeter? Oh yes.

– The final final boss battle with Jack in dragon form was very cinematic, very well done. A little lame how after defeating Jack the first time he now simply reappears a year later, is twice as powerful, and taunts you like you’re nothing.

– Glad I have the Lost Chapter’s version. Based on what I’ve read, I would have definitely missed the new content.

– I love the detail in the game. Small, off-beaten paths / names and clever sayings on every gravestone, etc. Nice.

– I can’t get the oracle to work! YMCA? Huh? Not working!

Soundtrack was fantastic – still in my head.

Best use of magic I’ve ever seen in a game so far. Quite a number of spells, and many of them sweet. I loved using them and it made the combat fun.

– Very clean level-up system. Menus and items also done very well. This wouldn’t matter, except there are so many items (including tofu) that it all could have been very messy.

– Bowerstone South…Tavern…memory card game…BEST MINIGAME EVER! Actually fun! What a concept!

As always, if I can find a game that my wife enjoys watching me play (and actually looks forward to doing it), then I know it’s priceless. Fable: The Lost Chapters is a great game that gives your imagination a lot to work with.

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