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What Grinds My Gears

You know what drives me absolutely nuts? When I pay $60 for a game to only find out that the text displayed is too small for me to read. Up until last Friday, I owned a standard definition television. Over the course of 2009 I had purchased several games (several being quite a few). I have been unable to play five of them. The reason behind this is that my TV was not capable of properly displaying them in a high enough resolution to render the text legible. According to a study conducted by Home Media Magazine, only 43% of households own a HDTV. If only half of the TV sets in America are capable of displaying HD, why are there games that can only be played in HD? Why is the text in these select games so small? Why can’t we have an option to enlarge text for those visually impaired?

When I finally upgraded to an HD set (Samsung 42” 720p 600hz Plasma), I popped in one of the games I had previously been unable to play, Star Ocean: The Last Hope. The first impression I had was that this game was absolutely stunning. It is a truly gorgeous game. Then I noticed that while I could now read the text, I still had to struggle with it. It was legible, but my poor eyes still had to strain. Over the past 20 years, I have read countless novels and played games religiously. I passed my last eye test a year ago with perfect vision. Technically, I should have no problem reading the text now, especially when my couch is only six feet away from the TV. Yet here I am, complaining to the internet.

I’m all for HD gaming, it is a beautiful thing. But when programming games, make the text large enough for me to read comfortably.

For the curious, the games were: Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Dead Rising, Infinite Undiscovery, Tales of Vesperia, and X Blades

Army of Two: The 40th Day


Army of Two was the second game I had picked up for the 360.  Being new to the system, Kim and I wanted a game that we could play together.  After browsing the catalogue of games and looking at the reviews, we decided to give it a whirl.  We had never played a third person shooter like this before.  Sure, I had beaten all three Devil May Cry games, but we were of the RPG standard.  Long story short, we had a blast.  This was a game that we played for nearly a year, until the sequel came out.  As it turns out, lightning rarely strikes twice.

What had sucked us in with the original title were the titular characters, Rios and Salem.  Their comedic banter and camaraderie made us fall in love with them.  Here were two guys, caught in a shit storm of epic proportions, laughing and playing air guitar.  It had been a year, so we were eager to see how time had treated our two favorite mercenaries.  It seems that in the time in between games, Rios and Salem started chugging as much bleach as possible and repeatedly slammed their heads into a wall.  In the sequel, we were treated to a Rios who has sex with pandas and a Salem who isn't so much a guy who talks about rap artists to relax in a firefight, but a sadist who cheers on Rios with every headshot.  I'm all for dark humor, but these were not the characters or game to do it.  They lost a vast amount of personality and that lost me as a fan.

The game takes place entirely in Shanghai.  Fifteen minutes into the game, the entire city is blasted back to the stone age by an invading mercenary force.  You spend roughly five to six hours slogging through rubble and smoke filled streets.  There are a few highlights, such as a zoo, and well, nothing else leaps to mind.  It all looks the same for the majority of the game.  This is a shame as the previous title had you trekking all over the globe with each location looking vastly different from the last.  Not to mention, there was so much more to do in the last game, including driving sequences and parachute entries.  Now, you move from one gray blast zone to the next taking cover and eliminating all in your way.  Along the way, you'll encounter civilians to rescue, though this is nothing more than killing the bad guys before they can execute the innocents.  There will also be a few instances where you are forced to make a decision, but it doesn't seem to matter what choice you make.  Playing through the game as either a saint or harbinger of death doesn't make any real impact.  It all comes down to the final choice you make in the game.  But even then, it's a nearly identical ending.  What threw me was the fact that to get the good ending, you must kill your partner.  That's right, for the GOOD ending, you must put a bullet in the person who just spent five hours killing countless bad guys with you.  Really, this is just terrible writing.  I had no idea what was going on as I played the game.  Nothing is explained to the player and the endings made no sense at all.  Horrible.

The highlights to this excursion are indeed the combat and weapon customization.  The controls were slightly changed for the better.  My only complaint is that the A button is tasked with too much.  Hold it to run.  Press it to interact, take cover, or roll.  Hold it to grab your downed ally and revive them.  Often times, instead of grabbing Kim while she was down, I would leap over the cover she was behind and run five meters before stopping my rampaging character.  Beyond that, combat is exactly the same, nothing new at all.  Weapon customization is upgraded for the most part, allowing for a greater variety of options, except for the handgun.  I can't figure out why I had so much more available to me in the first game.  There were easily 10 different guns.  Now there's only three.  And for customization?  Put a silencer or enhancer on it.  Only one gun allows for a larger clip.  I felt extremely crippled by this as when my primary weapon ran out of ammo, I was reduced to the crap the enemies drop or my pitiful excuse for a side arm.

As for multiplayer, I couldn't tell you much of anything as I haven't tried it yet.  I was excited to see a horde mode ala Gears of War, but that won't unlock for another month.  It is currently only available to people who preordered.  That strikes me as incredibly stupid.  Nearly as dumb as ODST's firefight mode not having a match making service.

Much like the first game, it's best when played with a buddy sitting next to you.  Sure it can be played online, but this is a game that promotes team work and strategy to succeed.  You will be making maps with your hands, raging when your partner screws up, celebrating victory over a tough encounter.  All of this can be done with an AI partner, but it just feels hollow.  Sure it has been upgraded from the first game.  I'm no longer dead in the water when I become injured, but now my partner stands far behind me and lets me do all the fighting.  It's not much of an upgrade.

While we had greatly enjoyed the first game, The 40th Day was such a disappointment.  From the story to the near retardation of Rios and Salem, this one is nothing special.  Even diehard fans will find this latest entry lacking.  From the game play to the "good" ending being the one where you kill your partner, this is a sad note for what could have been a great series to end on.

Game completed twice on normal difficulty.  Both good and bad story lines completely explored.

The Burger Gourmet: Simple's "Grabber"

I love a good burger.  I also love writing about nonsense.  I have a blog that enables me to write nonsensical things about burgers to my audience of 0.

Restauraunt:  Simple
Location:  Lake Geneva, WI
Burger:  The Grabber
Ingredients:  1/4 lb beef, Swiss cheese, Blood? sausage, Egg

Verdict:
I saw this burger on the menu and initially thought to pass, as it listed sausage and eggs.  Why would a burger come with sausage and eggs on the side?  When the stupid cleared, I realized they were on the burger itself.  I love eggs on my burger, so this seemed like an easy win for the new resturaunt.  How I was so very wrong.
When I received the burger, I immediately noticed the bun was toasted.  I hate toasted buns as the crunchy texture does nothing to compliment the burger.  Not only was the bun toasted, but it was covered in grease.  I sponged it off with my napkin and picked up the burger.  Grease literally poured from the entire burger onto my plate.  Not only that, but the yolk in the egg wasn't fully cooked and that popped and oozed out the side of my meal as well.  It was a disgusting first impression that left my hands slick with all sorts of foul things.  I sighed heavily and took a bite.  I was like biting into a ball of grease.  Horrible.  I could barely taste anything beyond the grease as I choked it down.  I ended up taking off the sausage as it did absolutely nothing for the flavor.  After finishing it, I felt immediately ill and had a slight urge to vomit.  It did not pass for several minutes as I wished I had never ate it. 

On the side:  Undercooked fried potato slices caked with pepper.  In addition, the resturaunt was so loud that I had a hard time keeping a conversation.

0 out of 5 stars.

Bayonetta


When I had first heard of Bayonetta, the entire idea seemed well…stupid. What drew most of my anger was the idea of guns strapped to the heels of her shoes. How was she supposed to fire them? Wouldn’t the momentum of a shot fired by foot completely throw her off balance? This would only be the tip of the ice berg. Soon, there was a ridiculous amount of coverage for what I was sure would be a mediocre game. Day after day, week after week it continued. I was sick of it. Not only was there gun shoes, but she was completely out of proportion. Her head was tiny, her legs stretched on forever and she had hands larger than a gorilla. It was all too much. Then came the day a demo was released. I was curious as to how bad this game would be with such ludicrous ideas behind it. I started it up and 15 minutes later I played it again. Then I played it again.

What was supposed to be one of the worst games I had ever played turned out to be one of the most enjoyable games I have ever seen. It’s just fun. There’s no two ways about it. From the over the top style to the bare bones game play, it’s a blast. Bayonetta comes from the mind of Hideki Kamiya, the director of the original Devil May Cry. It shows in nearly every aspect of Bayonetta. This was the feeling I had when playing the demo. It felt like discovering DMC all over again. Before the series started to take itself too seriously and wound up another bland action game (see entry #4).

The action oozes style and grace as Bayonetta dances around the screen dispatching her heavenly foes. As with DMC, this is a very combo heavy game. Unlike DMC, everything flows like a well orchestrated dance. You can equip two weapons to Bayonetta, one set to her hands and the other to her feet. This makes for a menagerie of destruction at your fingertips with nearly 10 weapons to choose from. There is no button to block; instead you must rely on quick dodges and a strong offense to keep you alive. When you move at the last possible moment, you will activate “Witch Time” and the world will slow down, allowing you to rack up massive amounts of damage. If you fight well enough, you’ll be rewarded with special torture attacks which deal devastating amounts of damage to foes. All of this combo madness jacks up the amount of halos you receive at the end of a fight. Halos are the currency used for new weapons, techniques, and other assorted goodies. Also standard are the difficulty modes, but you must unlock hard and the even harder, “Non stop Infinite Climax” modes. I don’t play many “action” games like this, but I found hard mode punishing nearly every mistake I made. This has only driven me to get better. I’ll either succeed or this game will break me and you’ll find me loving it all the same.

In addition to the over the top, nonstop action is a fairly entertaining story. What makes it work, however, is that the game never takes itself too seriously. There’s enough to make it work in the context, but there’s so many in jokes and scenes where you have no choice but to laugh along. Broken down, Bayonetta is a witch who must sacrifice angels daily in order to appease the devils who gave her the many abilities she possesses. If she doesn’t, she is dragged down to Hell. Add to that the complication that she’s been unconscious for 500 years and remembers nothing of her past. The game unravels predictably, but is entertaining none the less. This is all because of its ability to poke fun at itself.

There is no multiplayer to be had. Only leader boards and that’s just fine for a game such as this. Even after you beat the game once, you’ll be playing it over and over just to collect all the goodies to be had. I spent around 15 hours on my first play through (including cutscenes) and I didn’t touch the 20% marker for completion. This is a game with phenomenal replay value.

Bayonetta also marks a first for me. This is the first game that I refuse to play in front of the kids. I’ve played plenty of Resident Evil and Dead Space with them watching, but they’ll have to be a little older for Bayonetta. This is because of the incredible amounts of language some characters use and the over the top sexualized nature of Bayonetta herself. I enjoyed both quite a bit myself, but that’s me. Just take note if you have little ones running around the house.

Overall, I recommend Bayonetta to anyone who has lost their passion for gaming amidst all the gray and bland shooters that are dominating the market. It’s a much needed breath of fresh air that makes you take notice of how fun gaming can be.

*Game completed on normal difficulty

Dead Space


Dead Space wasn't a game that originally caught my eye. I wasn't a huge fan of EA at the time, and I wasn't seeing a whole lot of press, so it kind of slid by on my radar. It took a fight with my gf and her way of saying sorry (buying me a new game) to get me to take notice of this title. What a giant mistake on my part. Dead Space, along with Army of Two, was showing me that EA was becoming a company to take notice of.

Dead Space doesn't reinvent the survival horror genre, but it does show how it should be done. It walks a fine line between dark and quiet ambiance and shit your pants terror. So you may be walking around in the dark and eerily quiet bowels of the ship, but you never feel totally relaxed. And the action isn't so mindless and ad nausea to turn this into an action game. From start to finish, the pacing is amazing. There is seldom a dull moment and those usually being when you check the map to find your way in the labyrinth like ship. Because when you get down to it, the Ishimura is a giant ship. Each chapter of the game takes you to a different part of the ship, where you'll spend a little over an hour doing what needs to be done. All told, you can spend upwards of 15-20 hours with Dead Space.

The plot of Dead Space starts off simply enough. You play Isaac Clarke, an engineer with a repair vessel sent out to find and repair the Ishimura, a ship that mines planets of their resources. Clarke has a little more than a paycheck waiting for him on the other end, as his wife is a member of the crew on the Ishimura. Your crew comes out of hyper space or whatever this series calls it, and the Ishimura looms before you. The massive ship is hailed, but there is only a static filled garbled response. The coms seem to be out, as well as the lights, no big deal. You're a member of a repair crew, you see this all the time. As your ship gets closer though, you notice a field of debris and rocks floating around the Ishimura and then things take a turn for the worse. The pilot pushes past the field, sustaining a large amount of damage to your ship and you come crashing to a halt into the hanger of the Ishimura. Everyone seems fine and you disembark only to find no one on board the monstrous ship. It's dark and quiet. Making your way into a lobby area, you separate from the rest of your compatriots to log into a nearby terminal in hopes of discovering what happened. Suddenly, the lights go out and you see a shadowy form fall from the ceiling into the room with your crew. Blood spatters across the glass separating the rooms and one of your crew is screaming at you to run. Something crashes behind you and you're being chased down dark hallways as you try to escape the thing screaming and chasing after you. Isaac makes it into an elevator which delivers him to the depths of the ship. This is where Dead Space starts.

The game play is something unique. I had never encountered a system like this. There is no pausing to access your inventory or map. There are no life bars or displays of any kind to form a HUD on the screen. It is all done in game. The inventory and maps are accessed from a holo projector on Isaac's chest. His life is monitored from a gauge that runs along his spine. The ammo for your weapons is displayed on the weapon itself when you aim. It was amazing how seamlessly everything was integrated. Most everything else is standard fare. You'll be running around and shooting, solving puzzles and upgrading your weapons and suit as you progress. However not all of this is done in the standard fare. Some of it takes place in space and zero gravity. This is one point where I felt the game truly shined. Once you're in the vacuum of space, all you can hear is Isaac's breathing and the thud of his boots on the ground. It truly makes for a terrifying sensation. Add to that, enemies float about and can attack from literally any direction. It made for quite a few bizarre and tense moments.

Truly, Dead Space is an amazing gem in the genre. It breathes new life into a dying breed. In fact, I believe it was better than Resident Evil 5, which attempted many similar things, but failed miserably. From the story to the game play and the overall mood, you can't go wrong with this game. The controls are nice and tight and the Ishimura gives you plenty of reason to dim the lights and turn up the volume.

2009 in review

I play a lot of games.  As in holy hell, everyone refers to me as the guy who plays a lot of games.  So that had me thinking, just how many games to I play?  The other day, I found a solution.  I picked up this wonderful idea from Stephen Totilo of Kotaku.

Games Played

Xbox 360
Armored Core: For Answer  x
Army of Two  x
Assassin's Creed 2  x
Beatles: Rock Band  x
Bullet Witch  x
Dead Rising
Dead Space  x
Devil May Cry 4
Fable 2  x
Fallout 3
Gears of War 2  x
Ghostbusters  x
Halo 3  x
Halo 3: ODST  x
Infinite Undiscovery
Kung Fu Panda  x
Left 4 Dead  x
Lego Indiana Jones
Madden 10
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2  x
Mortal Kombat vs DCU  x
Resident Evil 5  x
Rock Band 2  x
Saints Row 2 
Soul Calibur 4  x
Star Ocean: The Last Hope
Table Tennis
Tales of Vesperia
Tekken 6
The Force Unleashed  x
X Blades

Wii
Castlevania Judgement  x
Speed Racer
Super Smash Bros Brawl  x
Trauma Center: Second Opinion
Wii Sports  x

PS2
Persona 4

PSP
Battlefront: Renegade Squadron  x
Final Fantasy Dissidia  x
Phantasy Star Portable
The Force Unleashed  x

DS
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia  x
FF Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates  x
Scribblenauts

PC
Aion 
Bioshock
Portal
KOTOR 2
Dragon Age: Origins  x
Sims 3  x

So over all, I played 49 new games and only beat 29 of them.  That gives me a completion rate of 59%.  To be honest, I thought it would have been a lot lower.  If you spoted Aion, a mmorpg, I consider "beating it" reaching level 50, the cap in the game.  So no, haven't beaten that one yet.

Dragon Age: Origins


There are a few game companies that I am fiercely loyal to. They are: Square, Capcom, and BioWare. Despite the few times they have wronged me by putting out lower quality games, delaying launches between countries, and a few other minor details, they have produced what I consider to be the highest quality of games I’ve ever played. Yet, only one has never wronged me. Only one company has delivered the highest grade of content consistently. That company is BioWare. So while I was working on yet another Neverwinter Nights module, I caught wind of a new game that was inching closer to release. This game would come to be the pinnacle of their career. After playing through, I honestly don’t know if they can top themselves after this. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past quarter, you know I’m talking about Dragon Age: Origins.

Dragon Age is BioWare’s first entry based entirely on new lore. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this translates into a paper thin world. You could spend hours alone going through the bits and pieces of history that make up the world you’ll be spending 50+ hours in. From journals to tomes and explanations provided by your companions, the world of Ferelden is massive. Then you realize that you don’t even explore the entire world. There’s at least another giant nation and the untold miles of wilderness that you never step foot in. All told, this lays a fantastic foundation for BioWare to further build upon and I eagerly look forward to further exploration.

You start the game by choosing you character's class and race. You have the standard human, elf, and dwarf combo thrown in with warrior, assassin, and mage. Beyond that, there are a few choices for variety, such as human noble and dwarf commoner. As you progress you can find tomes to specialize your character's class, or if one of your party members likes you enough, they can teach you. You can do this for everyone in your party as well, giving you complete control of your party structure. Being a single player experience, you need to set up actions for your party to follow as it would be a giant headache to let them run about on their own. There are a few default behaviors for you to choose from, but if you truly want to succeed, you have to program your own. As each character levels, they gain another action slot, so don’t be surprised if they seemed handicapped at first. Despite being able to customize everyone’s action for any given situation, be prepared to pause the game. A lot. This is your key to success and some of the later battles will punish you for the slightest mistake.

Be aware though, that in Ferelden, everyone is out to screw you over. Betrayal and revenge are the name of the game here. Once you move past your character’s origin story, you are recruited by the Grey Warden Duncan to fight a coming war with the Darkspawn. The Darkspawn live underground and every so often find an old god to corrupt and lead them to the surface in an attempt to wipe out the other races. The only problem is there hasn’t been a blight in over 400 years. Despite your clan’s track record, a lot of people are skeptical to your continued worth. After meeting the king and setting up a plan, you brace for the coming Darkspawn army. Fast forward to some more betrayal and you’re one of the last two remaining Grey Wardens. The entire world is against you as it erupts into civil war and it’s up to you to build an army to fight the coming blight. The bulk of the game involves you being everyone’s errand boy as you do everything from exorcising possessed cats to plotting assassinations in the name of raising an army.

90% of the time, this works just fine. But 35 hours in, it starts to get old. Normally I play the light side, a chaotic good kind of character. But towards the end I found myself just saying “Screw it.” I would kill whoever was in my way just to speed to story up. As a heads up to you, the reader, be prepared to put up with a lot of BS from the dwarves. I didn’t have an opinion on the little folk before, but now, I absolutely loathe them. Before you write me off as some racist bastard, play their part of the story last and tell me if you’re not fed up with their garbage 15 minutes into meeting them.

When I found myself growing tired of the grind, I would set up camp with my party and simply talk with them. The writing and interactions that can be had are phenomenal. This is storytelling and character development at its best. Even if I didn’t particularly like a character, it always paid off to get to know them as it would often open up side quests and other perks. The only downfall is that I found myself liking my initial party so much, that I was reluctant to replace them with characters I met later in the game.

As for the DLC that came with my copy of the game, while it didn’t add more than two hours of action per experience, it was still worth it in that the keep and extra character I gained were extremely handy. While I found myself wishing the side quests for each were a little longer, I can’t complain as they were included free of charge. With another piece of DLC being released on the fifth, I can’t wait to delve back into the world of Ferelden.

The only complaints I had with the game beyond the dwarven section, was the loading times. While my PC isn’t the greatest, I was able to run the game at max settings with no visual slow down. Yet, the loading times were unbearable at times. It’s a minor complaint amidst all of the greatness to be found here.

All in all, if you’re a fan of fantasy, be it Tolkien or D&D, you’ll love Dragon Age. From the main story line to the incredible amount of side quests to be had, it’s a pace that hardly slows. This was a game that consumed me for a week straight. Every spare moment I had went into it. Few games can do that anymore. So do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. But make sure it’s the PC version. I can’t imagine owning a classic like this without the controls of a keyboard and mouse. Add to that, the module toolset is only available for PC. So truly, the adventure could go as far as your imagination.

Game completed as Human noble on normal settings.