Friday, October 19, 2007

Portal, Tony Hawk Beatdown, Demos and NPD Numbers

Obviously the love for Portal is all over the place. I also loved the game as well, although I'm not as crazy as some people are over the ending song of the game. It's cool and it goes along with the deadpan jokes throughout Portal's wonderful 3 hour playtime, but let's not get carried away.

In many ways I can equate the greatness and shortness of Portal with one of my other favorite games of all time, ICO. Back when I reviewed ICO for Console Gold (now Gaming Trend) I got a question from the owner of whether the game really deserved its score given how long it takes to beat (roughly 4 hours of straight gameplay, not adding all the trial-and-error). This is a very subjective area of game reviewing in my opinion. I think you can have a masterful game that is short and still give it high marks. Heavenly Sword is a short game, but it also isn't as masterful as ICO or Portal, so I would rank it lower (probably in the B area via GameShark ratings).

Anyway, if Portal was on its own and not included in the Orange Box I think there would be a lot of backlash given the length of the experience. The fact that it is one of 5 games in the box helps it a lot in the reviewing department. What is also cool is that people have figured out how to use the Portal gun on any Source-based game. Sure, it pretty much screws with the way the games were built, but it is pretty cool to set up ambush scenarios.

Since I talked about review backlash, I think it is important to point out how badly Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is getting reviewed. Yours truly is reviewing it for GameShark once the game gets here, but I was a bit shocked by the reviews coming out for it. The TH games have pretty much been review proof since its inception, much like the Madden games are commonly seen with high 80s and 90s review scores. No matter how derivative or "yearly boost up" type feel the TH games had (much like the roster updates and small tweaks for Madden), the games were still reviewed well. This year though it seems the major sites have given Proving Ground a beatdown:

1up - 5.5
Gamespot - 6.5
IGN - 7.1
Team Xbox - 7.4

Granted, the TH reviews have gotten lower as we've gone along, but this is a pretty big beatdown. Why are the scores so low? Well, it has to be because of skate (my GameShark Review). Reviewers got to see something new from skate and they're all aflutter with the new control scheme. I liked the new control scheme and with some minor tweaking it could easily make this possible series even better than the Hawk games were in their heyday. Almost every review points out how much better skate is from a gameplay perspective and I'll get to check it out myself here pretty soon. It is funny though that the Hawk games become the first series to get the beatdown, I would have figured the Madden games - which have been around far longer - would see a critical beatdown earlier than the Hawk games. Then again, there is no real competition for EA on the football front.

PC demos of upcoming games are hotter than fresh pancakes right now. In the past few weeks we've had demos for Call of Duty 4, Unreal Tournament III and Hellgate: London just last night. The Crysis demo is coming soon (October 26th), but I have also played in the beta for that game. I'm impressed by just one of those games so far: Call of Duty 4.

This isn't to say that Unreal Tournament III is going to be a bad game, it's just that I've never really been into that series and there are tons of people that are far better at that game than I could ever hope to be. With my limited time of playing Hellgate: London I was not excited at all, but I will play more of it. With Crysis it isn't that the game sucks it is that the system requirements are just staggering and I keep thinking that EA/Crytek are limiting the possible sales that this game could generate. They like to say that Crysis can't be done on consoles, but I'd be willing to bet we'll see the game on the consoles in 2008. Crysis, just given the greatness of FarCry, should be made of money. It's just that EA/Crysis have priced themselves right out of the game except for those that want to spend lots of money on an all-new system.

Call of Duty 4 gets special mention here. Infinity Ward is much like Pixar in the gaming world: everything they touch turns to gold. They were not part of any of the sucky Call of Duty games and now they are back with a modern variant of the game. I was surprised how well the game ran on my aging system and unlike some of the other games I didn't have to whip out my more powerful laptop to play it on. It's the same old Call of Duty gameplay, but it is like a perfectly tuned symphony in play. I will probably pick this up on the PC since that is all I've played the Infinity Ward games on...why change now? This game will most likely be in the hunt for Game of the Year and the jump from the rut of World War II to modern times hasn't hurt it at all.

And finally the NPD numbers were released yesterday. First hardware and then software numbers ranked in order:

Xbox 360 527.8K
Wii 501K
Nintendo DS 495.8K
PlayStation Portable 284.5K
PlayStation 2 215K
PlayStation 3 119.4K
Game Boy Advance 75K

1. 360 HALO 3 - 3.3 million
4. PS2 MADDEN NFL 08 - 205K
5. 360 SKATE - 175K
6. 360 MADDEN NFL 08 - 173K
8. 360 BIOSHOCK - 150K

So, the 360 wins the console sales by a hair. Both Microsoft and Nintendo have to be happy with the results in September. The Wii trails right behind the 360 in overall sales even with Halo 3 having come out and the DS sold almost 500k units as well. Sony, although they will spin this ("we sold 334k total Playstations" (PS2 and PS3) or "619k in total Playstation brand" (PS2/PS3/PSP)), should be absolutely devastated by both the hardware and software numbers.

Only selling 119k PS3s versus the over 500k that the Wii and 360 pushed is really bad. They had the cheaper system out there plus the 80GB version and I don't see them recovering any ground through the holidays since they have such a weak lineup of games outside of Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. On the software front Heavenly Sword sold respectfully, but was outsold by skate on the 360. A first-party game outsold by a third-party game for another system...ouch!

I'm not even sure the $399 40GB system is going to push a lot of systems out the door. All it takes is for Microsoft to drop the prices a bit more and they've effectively blocked Sony's ever closing chance. And now Jack Tretton has the gall to say that buying a PS3 AND a PS2 will solve all your backwards compatibility issues for less than the original price of a PS3. Although the math is indeed correct, I think a lot of people would rather play their old PS2 games on a PS3 and not have to worry about having 2 (or more if you have a 360 and/or Wii) systems set up. The fact that they eliminated BC is just a spit in the face of those people who owned the PS2 and want the graphical upgrades that the PS3 gives many of the games. I'm still not sure why they dropped support of it unless it was a section of the company that was bleeding red with no possibility of ever catching up.

As we head into the holiday season I see the Wii, 360, DS and PSP to have a really good season. The first two have some big games still coming (Super Mario Galaxy, Guitar Hero III, Rock Band and Mass Effect) and I think we will start to see an interesting pattern as we see if Nintendo can continue to push on with looming shortages (whether just words or reality is questionable) or if the 360 is going to sell really well this Christmas with an abundance of systems to pick up. Who knows, but it will be a fun ride.