Just a day and a half remains until PAX East 2012 descends upon my fair city of Boston (seriously – it’s mine), and I, for one, am looking forward to it. I’ll do what I can to post little pseudo-updates on cool stuff I see and do, but since no one picked me up as a freelancer this year, I’ll be there pretty much solely for fun, so I ain’t promising shit.
If, however, you’re at PAX and want to play a game of Carcassonne, Fluxx, or just want to grab a drink, feel free to hit me up, either via twitter or just leave a comment below; I’ll get it via email. I’ll be around.
If you find yourself wondering “what the hell should I do in the Boston area Friday night? What’s the cool new dance night in town?” the obvious choice is to head on over to An Tua Nua (just outside Kenmore Square on Beacon St.) for JiveBoston, the premier of what will be one of the coolest nights this town has seen in years. It’s going to be awesome; seriously. Be there.
Here we are; Mass Effect 3 has finally arrived. I have a bacon and pineapple pizza; I have a gin & tonic the size of my head; I have absolutely nothing to do for the rest of the night. Sorry, Skyrim, you’re on the shelf for a bit. We’re gonna watch Earth die. Let’s do this.
It’s true; Skyrim is evil and all-consuming. I apologize to everyone, most importantly my girlfriend. I knew ahead of time. I knew what it would be like, but I played it anyway, and I’m sorry. It will end. I promise.
Like tomorrow, when I pick up Mass Effect 3. At that point, all gaming is Shepard-related, save for what is work-related. That’s just the hard truth, and you know I always hand out hard truth (sort of).
You wanna know what else is the hard truth? I have a new article about the Mass Effect series as a whole up on FPSGuru.com; you should go check it out. Really, go check it out! Shoo! I’m off to go play the last bit of Skyrim that I can before who-knows-when. Dragons to kill!
A week goes by and I cave. Not intentionally, mind you; I had assistance. My pal Apophus saw that I was thinking about picking up Skyrim and he was all “hey, I finished it on the xbox and won’t be needing it any time soon – want me to mail it your way?” Isn’t that nice of him? I thought so.
So now I’m a little ways in and yeah, it’s pretty. I haven’t gotten far enough to really say much more than that. I’ll let you know as I get further along.
On top of the pull to play Skyrim is, of course, not a desire to play Mass Effect, but rather a desire to have my Mass Effect 2 saved game exactly how I want it for Mass Effect 3 in a short few weeks. For those of you who are uninitiated in the ME franchise, each sequel allows you to import your saved game from the previous title, not for weapons and armor and such, but for the choices that you made in the previous game(s). Who lives, who dies, and how you reacted to certain challenges in the past remain to affect the present. This is all fine and dandy, but that means that for people like me, there’s some do-over stuff I gotta take care of in order to be where I want come March 6th. Sure, it sounds a little like work, but I think the payoff will be worth it to me. We’ll see.
Having played ME2 a few times now, I’m not worried about the time sink that it’ll be to burn through it. Even with the DLC stuff that I have, I don’t anticipate it taking that long. The game flows smoothly, easily connecting from one subplot to another, and is fairly simple to plan out in advance, once you know the game well enough. ME1 is a little more tedious. What with the extremely robust skills and inventory system, every fight and item collection turns into a meta-game of what goes where on whom, turning what should be a quick jaunt through the galaxy into a snail’s race. So it goes.
Also out this week was Warp, a really cute/violent stealthy-type game from Trapdoor Inc. I demoed at PAX East last year. You’re this adorable little alien who crash-lands on Earth and is picked up by the military. You wake up in a research facility and are undergoing all sorts of bizarre tests, when suddenly you decide you’re done with that BS and teleport around. Yup, turns out, unbeknown to your captors, you can teleport a short distance, even at times inside of objects and/or people. Yup, people. So far it’s fun, fast-paced, and surprisingly gory (in an adorable sort of way). I’m not very far in, however, so I’ll have to keep you all updated as I progress.
As if all that wasn’t enough, I received an email from Microsoft urging me to “Add Warp to your House Party” and I was all “what the shit are you talking about, MS?” and followed the link like a good little consumer. Turns out they’re running some silly promotion wherein if I purchase all four of these designated upcoming “House Party” games from XBLA, then I get like 800MS Points back or something. Fine, fine, but what kind of crap games are they including, you may wonder to yourself (as I know I did). Turns out, three of the four I was already planning on purchasing – Warp, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, and I Am Alive (and just last week I was saying it wasn’t getting enough press – I AM PRESCIENT).
The fourth game is Nexuiz, an arena-based first person shooter that seems to be a mix between Smash TV, Halo, and Monday Night Combat. Will I give it a shot? Sure, why not? I mean, it started out as a Quake modification in the summer of 2001, became a multi-platform high quality FPS in 2005, and is now being remade with the CryENGINE 3 game engine. Of course I’ll check it out.
I feel that at this time it is important to mention that this post has been sitting in my queue all week, unfinished because I’ve been, well, playing Skyrim. More on that eventually. For now, the moral is – there are too many games in my queue. What a hard life I live.
I have made it through yet another day without purchasing Skyrim. This is getting more and more difficult.
I am beseiged on all sides with people wondering my problem. “It’s arguably the best single-player RPG ever,” says one friend. “It’s going to get Game of the Year,” says another. “WHY,” says a third. I’m reminded of an exchange I saw between two friends on facebook, in which one friend urged another “you should really get Skyrim,” to which the other replied “that’s kind of like saying ‘Hey dude – you should really get a divorce.’” Even without playing, I see the sad, realistic humor in this.
So what has kept me from trying out this gem of RPGs, this oasis in a sea of lesser games? First, I have a confession.
I never played Oblivion. [cue dramatic chipmunk]
I know, I’m a leper-outcast-unclean for this. How dare I even begin to write about single-player RPGs, yadda yadda yadda. Come on, it’s not like it’s the Jesus H. Christ of games (obviously that’s Ocarina of Time – arguments can be shut down in the comments; bring it). Seriously, though – I never played Oblivion (at least not past the character creation screen) and as a result, I feel like I should maybe play it before I get involved in Skyrim. Is that so?
I mean, here we have a really, really fleshed out world – full of life, death, monsters, plotlines, histories, magic, dragons, and war. I played Fallout 3; I know that full-on worlds can be totally amazing. Is it really that different? Is it really that unique? Please, tell me – I need to know.
I do own Oblivion, I’ve just never gotten around to actually playing it. Do I pop it in and get my ass in gear in preparation for Skyrim? Do I skip Oblivion and move directly on to Skyrim? I mean, I do plan on playing Skyrim at some point; too many people I know have practically forsaken their social lives for it (at least temporarily) to avoid indefinitely. Thus far, however, I’ve managed to hold out in hopes that I’ll distract myself enough with other games/activities long enough to make it to the magical point at which it drops in price from the initial $60 retail price to a more accessible level. This shouldn’t be hard, so long as I can hold out for another month. With March 6th being the drop date for Mass Effect 3, that should keep me occupied for a while, no?
That’s not a real question. Of course it will. It’s going to be boss. Hell, I should check my ME2 save game and make sure it’s where I want it to be, all ready for importing. Now that I think about it, I might have to replay ME1 just to get everything where I want it to be in ME2. Add in all the DLC that I have for ME2 (read: all of it) and my general lean toward being a completionist, and you have a sizable chunk of time. All this from someone who still never finished Alan Wake (what’s up with that talk of more from that world?). Maybe I’ll get to it – we’ll see.
Speaking of the beginning of March, I feel really bad for the upcoming Ubisoft Shanghai action/adventure game, I Am Alive. This thing has received very little press (as far as I’ve seen, anyway) and looks awesome (here, have another while you’re at it), but they’ve made the poor decision to drop March 7th, the day after BioWare‘s Mass Effect 3. What were they thinking? I’ll definitely be getting ME3, and at some point, I’ll get I Am Alive as well, but how much later? Who knows; that really depends on BioWare. Good luck, Ubisoft Shanghai.
All of that said, it’s looking like we’ve at least got a few good games coming up on the horizon. What games are in your Most Awaited list right now?
I know I promised you all a RAGE post. I know I did. I even bought it on launch day and effectively sequestered myself in my apartment until I beat it. Here’s the thing – it sucked. It really sucked. It sucked so hard that when I was finally done with it, I wanted nothing more than to forget I had ever played it. Since it’s not like you guys pay me for this shit, it seemed like a pretty solid idea. Sorry about that.
I mean, I didn’t really think that it would be that bad. How bad could it be? I mean, it’s by id Software – these guys brought us Quake and DOOM. It uses a gorgeous new engine, and it uses it well – the game world is beautiful and enthralling, the landscapes never duplicate, and even the details of how enemies take a bullet are fantastic to view. Shoot someone in the leg, they topple over like you’d expect them to, and then they crawl to cover.
That’s all great and ducky, but at its core, RAGE is still a poorly-told shooter with an identity crisis. It can’t decide what kind of game it wants to be. From the RPG-esque quest system, to the shoehorned driving segments, to the Magic: The Gathering-like minigame, RAGE is a game that constantly wishes it were something else. This would be all fine and dandy if those aspects were, well, good.
Wanna talk story? Let’s talk story.
Think of the most bland, boring, and overdone post-apocalyptic story you can imagine. It’d probably be something along the lines of Beyond Thunderdome meets Fallout meets Borderlands, right? (I’m not dissing those stories; I’m saying they’re overdone and commonplace at this point). Yeah, that’s the story of RAGE. Despite being in production for four years, the story itself read like something you and your buddies would come up with while drunk and high after a night of a Mad Max marathon.
An asteroid (they at least use a real asteroid) hits Earth and kills off/mutates most of the population, but the government made all these “ark” things with people in them to survive and rebuild society ages later. They were also jacked full of some silly special nano-things (I forget what; it was a while ago, and it was a stupid attempt to make you feel special). Ark breaks open, everyone but you dies, you crawl out into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, are about to get owned by some mutant freak, and then John Goodman’s voice shoots him in the face and saves your butt.
You hop into John’s dune buggy and he just blabs away and gives you the setup. Then despite his obvious caution that has kept him alive in a harsh and foreboding world, he wants to help you out, and sends you on some missions. A few of those in, and you’re helping people over here and people over there, for no real reason beyond the fact that there ain’t much else to do in this wasteland. Occasionally you’ll hear mention of some super-powerful “Authority” group (word on the street is, they’ll be after you). You’ll kill some mutants, kill some raiders, and get corralled down a plotline into doing fuck-all for randoms that don’t matter at all.
By the end of the first disc, you’re a wanted man in Wellspring (the first city) and you’re shipped off to Subway City to help out The Resistance fight The Authority (really, guys? Subway City? The Resistance? Did you forget to remove the placeholder names in post-production?). Despite the stunning graphics, the landscape in part 2 is bland and tiny, there are only a couple places of interest, and then you’re off to fight The Authority on their own turf, working toward a goal that is so foolish it’s a wonder they’re serious. Big credit goes to the voice actors who managed to get through the explanation dialogue without cracking up; you guys are pros.
It’s contrived, it’s boring, it’s hackneyed, and whoever turned it in should be chastised for letting their kid write the basis of the storyline. Shame, shame, shame.
So the story sucks. Ok, what about quests, you may ask? Sure, you’re constantly being bombarded with quests, both main-storyline as well as side-quests. But are they really RPG-esque? You can either do them, or not. I’m not saying that to be a smart ass, I mean it. There are yes/no “quests” that advance the plot, but no way to advance in the plot unless you say “yes”. Why give me the damn choice, then? I’m pretty sure that when I put the game in, I was at least implicitly agreeing to play the game. Why, then, do I have to constantly reaffirm that desire within the game by saying “yes, asshole, I’ll go kill so-and-so”? How about this – when I don’t want to play the game anymore, I’ll take it out of the Xbox, ok? Until then, stop asking me yes/no questions that effectively mean the same damn thing.
The side quests don’t really further the plot so much as fill in time to make the game feel more full. This is at best the stuff of a lazy RPG, but more like a game that realizes it doesn’t have much going on but looks and wants to distract you from that fact in any way possible. Poor form.
Next up – driving. I admit, I’m hit or miss on vehicle mechanics in games. Sometimes I dig ‘em, sometimes they make me want to stab orphaned infants. I will say, RAGE’s driving mechanics are pretty fun. The vehicles are responsive, the weapons systems are decent, and the explosions are satisfying. The encounters, however, are canned and tedious. There are only a few places in which you encounter enemies on the road, and in those places you will ALWAYS encounter enemies. Beyond that, it’s a simple drive-fest that reeks of filler. Sure, there are a few open-world driving mini-quests, but you can finish them all in about ten minutes (truly, all of them in the game can be completed in about ten minutes) and then that’s that. There are races within the TWO towns in the game, but even that’s pretty simple and boring.
The collectible card game was actually one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game, and even that was not free of annoyance. In each of the two main towns, there is someone in a bar waiting to play this card game with you. No one seems to mind the fact of the broken fourth wall necessary for such a game to exist, but that’s quite alright. We’ll just gloss over that.
Buy yourself a starter deck and then start playing. It’s a pretty fun game, where you make a deck out of your available cards and then fight your opponent’s deck, hoping to beat out his cards before they beat yours. There are other collectible cards that you can find throughout the world, just lying around in random places. Find those and you can make your deck better. It’d be almost fun, if not for the fact that some of the best cards available early on are only available on your first playthrough of a given area, so if you miss them, oh well – your deck is going to suck until you get to the second half of the game – and on top of that, the main reason I ended up playing a lot of the card game was so that I could afford ammo and parts for little robot minions.
All of this from what is supposedly a shooter, mind you. The shooting aspects themselves are a little boring and simplistic. Maybe I just overdosed on run-and-gun shooters in the 90s, but come on – cover-based shooting can be so fun when done correctly; I don’t understand what’s innovative or fresh about the same old game that we’ve been playing for the past 15 years, but prettier. Maybe I’m reviewing the wrong type of game, or maybe people just need to try a little harder.
All told, RAGE is barely a noble effort. It’s a stunning graphics engine, certainly, but it’s just polishing on a turd sandwich. A boring turd sandwich. A boring, bland, schizophrenic turd sandwich. The fact that this game is getting positive reviews makes me think that journos don’t want to risk falling out of grace with PR departments. You guys suck, and so does this game.
I’m not dead. Really. I’ve just been very, very busy.
I’m currently installing Rage, the newest game from iD (the crew who brought us such games as DOOM and Quake). Look forward to a review very soon.
I’ve also got a Burning Man article coming (eventually) as well as a half-written discussion on LA Noire and sandbox games in general (there will be charts!), but again, it comes down to finding (or making, as the case may be) time. A little more patience, and I should be back in business soon. Thank you, please drive through.