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Friday, October 17, 2008

Game Play: Dead Space, First Look

I'm a couple hours into Dead Space now and if I had one line to say about the game, it is this:

Someone did their homework.

I mean, really, when you start to pull the game apart you see components strewn from various parts of FPS and survival horror neatly and nicely geared to fit together. Clearly, there's Doom - not just the first but the third as well. One might wonders if this wasn't far more the game that Carmack intended with Doom III with its excellent use of lighting and sound in gameplay. There's enough Half-Life that Isaac might as well be a cousin of Gordon Freeman, with his stoic and shy nature (but more on that later).

Level design is a beautiful combination of System Shock and Resident Evil - although it is interesting that we are still strapped with some of the same "find blue key" mechanics from nearly every shooter ever made. The air sequences from Doom III have been refitted - and combined with zero gravity zones are quite a lot of fun.

Naturally we also see Max Payne and Half-Life 2 crop up with "stasis" and "kinetics" instead of "bullet time" and "grav gun" - and thankfully they feel more useful than cliche (although any usage of these mechanics runs the risk at this point). We get a dash, but only a dash, of Deus Ex style inventory and weapon upgrades.

The growing call for "HUDless" design in especially survival horror is near perfect here, combined with an improved Resident Evil 4 aiming convention and some impressive floating HUD components which appear when needed. I'm quite glad, though, that Isaac is not allowed to heal by leaning up against a wall. I'm half surprised we don't see more of the herb mechanic for healing, actually.

What's impressive for me, though, is that these don't feel like lifts from another playbook. They've been integrated very tightly and the game feels like it has been extremely well tuned for the mechanics at play.

My biggest complaint, actually, is that Dead Space follows the same narrative style as Half-Life 2. I actually find Issac's lack of speech somewhat jarring considering the situation. He doesn't scream, doesn't offer consolation or advice - Isaac feels cold to me. His search for Nicole, which I'm sure will have some kind of plot twists to come, seems silly and futile at this point. The last guy I ran into died while ramming his head into a wall - what hope should Isaac have that Nicole is still alive?

In general, though, two thumbs up. The game isn't just looks, but brains too. It manages to be one of the spookiest titles I've run across - which is a hard goal for any game. Highly recommend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

TV Watch: Heroes, Angels and Monsters

Spoilers warning.

Once again Heroes proves how it can spin a great beginning only to get tangled along the way. For the last couple of episodes, we've been bouncing between timelines and getting a moderately interesting peek into how some of the characters might diverge and change - and interesting take on character development in general.

The problem is - the main plot continues to unravel in simple bizarre ways and this week's episode seemed to explode with questions about what's going on with the show.

To start with, I couldn't agree more with Hiro and Ando's lament about, well, Hiro and Ando. Hiro can control time and space and here in this episode we see him able to essentially teleport Adam back into a coffin without a problem, but he's been unable to keep track of a few lousy pieces of paper for some time now and his "nemesis" is simply a hot chick who runs real fast. We're a far cry from future Hiro decked out leather for sure.

Hiro's problems with Ando have seemed pretty odd, to be honest - for a guy who has hopped around time as much as he has ... his reaction and treatment of Ando felt forced. Course, that was nothing compared to seeing Hiro shove a sword into Ando's chest for what seemed like very little reason at all. I'm guessing weird "fear is my strength" guy had something to do with it - but either The Girl and I microslept there a second or we couldn't figure out what Speed Girl and Fear Boy were doing there at all. They were looking for a job? What the hell? Hiro and Ando have been the prime motivator of pretty much this entire season's plotline - so it be nice if they started making at least an ounce of sense.

Thankfully if history has taught us anything it's that if Heroes can't make sense of itself, it will always at least make itself interesting in the end. So I'm still pretty positive about the show in general, just puzzled as usual.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dead Space Preview, Trailer

The Ypsilanti office of Cathode Tan sent along a quick note about the first few hours of EA's recently released, very well reviewed, horror piece Dead Space, which we've been covering off and on:

It is hard to avoid the comparisons to Doom, although visually it is a significant improvement, and overall the enviornments are the best I have seen in a space FPS. The pacing is a bit different from most FPS, in that you move rather slowly, as do many of the opponents. They are pretty tough however, and where you hit them (blowing off limbs is encouraged) makes a big difference as to how quickly they die. They also like to drop out of vents behind you. Also there are pretty big gaps between encounters, which are pretty much always telegraphed by sound effects. There are a few minor puzzles but nothing that slows things down much. An guide feature keeps you from getting lost. There are a lot of options for buying equiptment (only your first weapon is given to you, the rest are bought or unlocked with schematics at the store). Weapons and suit can be upgraded by power nodes which are found or bought. This is reminiscent of inventory in Deux Ex. All ammo is stored in inventory. You have a few tricks up your sleeve, a stasis effect that can be used with any weapon, and a gravity gun like effect. So far these serve mainly to get past the puzzles. Use of different weapons is encouraged by the variety of ammo that is found. All are very accurate but moderately powered (the 4 of 7 I have used). Some areas have no gravity and you move by launching yourself and walking with magnetic boots, these are intersting. The main character silent, plot is conveyed through video comm and logs of the deceased. The plot seems well constructed but not particularly novel. Overall, I am enjoying the game, but don't find it too hard to walk away from.

The game should be showing up Chicago-side tomorrow, so I'll be able to dig into myself by the weekend. Quite looking forward to it. It feels so much like Christmas in October at this point - Dead Space imminent, LittleBigPlanet on pre-order and Fallout 3 waiting in the wings.

Anyway, here's the latest trailer for eye candy value:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Well Now I Feel Old

My page on the old UnrealWiki has bee moved into legacy. Yikes.

Spore To Get Expansions, Lack Of Shock Thunders Nothing

Ars Technica gives a brief rundown of Creepy & Cute Parts Pack and a Space Stage expansion for EA's Spore.

Nobody is exactly surprised at this move - it's EA and the guy who made The Sims so the math was pretty obvious. Sadly I don't think either are destined to exactly reinvigorate my interest in the game. Oh, I might hop back into the game from time to time but there's an odd lack of variety to the gameplay (outside of the Creator itself) and the space stage doesn't need an expansion, imho, it needs a rewrite.

I hold out some hope that future expansion will give the twist, update or improvement the game deserves - and I may be judging the space on too quickly. Just have to wait and see.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Is LittleBigPlanet A Game Changer?

Thanks to the old Curmudgeon for bringing by this link:

But the game has managed to do what console titles have thus far shuddered to provide - an open, easy to use creation system that lets the community make the magic, while the creators stand back and marvel.

Why is this such a big deal, and what makes LittleBigPlanet's air of creativity so different?
-- Opinion: Why LittleBigPlanet Is Web 2.0 For Games, Fulfilled

It's a pretty insightful look into the game and touches on or relates to things we've discussed here before: the evolution of mods, the community that consoles have the potential for and the power of user friendly creation tools.

While chatting with Matt on it, it occurred to me - does this signify Nintendo dropping the ball on the concept? Super Smash Brothers held a lot of promise for the Wii on this front, but most of that seems to have more or less evaporated after the release. Nintendo has a relatively mature network - but one burdened by its own concepts of linking users. It's got a massive user base ... could the big N being doing more to empower them?

Game Play: LED Football (iPhone)

Just a quick note about LED Football for the iPhone: if you remember the original device fondly, just go ahead and get it. It translates to a great little iPhone game. It doesn't really matter how long you play, it's simply but challenging and gives you nice little nostalgia fuzzies too. The emulation is simply spot on and at $0.99 - an easy sell.

Never Holiday With Sandals, Part Two

In the beginning, there was Sandals Travel Sucks (the first part).

Then we swam, ate, drank and generally had a merry time for a few days.

When it came time to leave though, we were pretty rightfully frightened considering the treatment Sandals had given us on the flight down. The Girl kept asking our butler (yes, we had a butler - but it's not really as swank as it sounds) to verify our schedule but we were continually told not to worry about it.

So I double checked the only flight information we had on hand - the original paper itinerary. This told us we needed to board around 9:45 and considering the amount of merry time we had the night before ... this proved somewhat difficult. We awoke and sloughed around 7 in the morning to shower, finish packing and harass the front desk. We were both in a state of pain from being hungover with very little sleep.

The front desk was certain we were to check out at 11, leave at 12 and board a plane at 2:35. This prompted a lot of questions from us. Were we still getting into Chicago at 7 if we were leaving half a day later than before? Were we going to have enough time in San Juan to make our connecting flight (without the use of a time machine)? Were we confirmed for this new flight out of San Juan?

The first story we got was the yes, we would still get to Chicago at 7:00. Yes, thirty minutes was enough time to exit the plane, get your luggage, get through customs and get to the other gate.

We were a bit skeptical of all this.

The second story we got was that we had about an hour in San Juan but we'd still get to Chicago later that night. We still didn't get any real confirmation on this phantom flight and never got confirmation that we were actually on that flight.

We were a bit skeptical of all this.

So noon rolls around and we're put into a cab and get sent off to the airport. We get to the American Airlines ticket counter.

We are told there has been a schedule change and there is no flight out of San Juan to Chicago. The best they can do is get us to Miami that night, hope we can get a hotel and then get to Chicago in the morning.

At this junction there are only three possibilities. Either Sandals is so woefully incompetent that they don't understand the difference between a plane being in existence and not being in existence, they know the difference but they were simply lying to us because they knew once we were off the resort we weren't their problem - or some combination of the two.

To make a long, painful, story short - we spent four hours in a Days Inn off Miami International. We made it into Chicago about 17 hours after we were supposed to originally. I missed a day of work and The Girl had no chance to clean or organize for our impending house guests. We've been in varying states of exhaustion ever since. Oddly being stuck for inside hotels, airports and airplanes for nearly a day cycle really throws the body out of whack.

Despite the fact that we had a plenty good time while on the island itself - our end summation is that there are plenty of resorts in the sea and we don't need to deal with one that treats its guest so carelessy from both a corporate and local level. The treatment was truly astonishing.

I've heard back from their odd, secret, internal customer service on the first part and the response was essentially a formal summary of their original stance. They process many flights like this and if a few customers fall through the cracks then well, shrug, ho hum and go sod off.

Which we would say to Sandals: the feeling is now mutual.

I sent a summary of this to the "internal customer service email" (whatever the hell that means). I had already sent the first post there and basically got a paraphrase of the same "this is our policy" nonsense that they gave us before.

This time I got nothing. Not even a "sorry for lying to" or, heck, even a sorry. Nothing at all. This is Sandals, people. Unless you're calling with your credit card in hand, they could really care less.