Monday, November 19, 2007

Game Overload

I'm sure many of you are experiencing a gaming overload. As a freelance reviewer I have found myself having to put some pretty top shelf games on the back burner in order to devote enough time to reviewing. These are the games I am currently trying to play:

Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Assassin's Creed (360)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360)
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)
Mass Effect (360)

These are the games I currently have on my review plate:

Virtua Fighter 5 Online (360) for GameShark
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PS2) for Evil Avatar

Along with those two I plan on reviewing some of the above mentioned games for Evil Avatar, but I need to pick which ones. I figure Mass Effect will take the longest, so that goes on the back burner and hopefully someone else will play through it and review it for EA. Call of Duty 4 has already been reviewed at EA, so the other 3 are fair game and I will probably review them, so they will be my next major experience after I have given VF5 enough time to write a review.

Luckily I am already a good chunk into Ratchet & Clank as well as Assassin's Creed (I just had to see how good/bad it was for myself and playing fighting games for review constantly can get a bit tiring), but I have not touched Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

I'm not sure how other freelance reviewers out there handle their load, but as soon as I get something that needs to be reviewed every other game goes on the back burner and the review games take center stage. Yes, the allure to play the other games are there, but I also have a job that needs the most time I can give it.

At least there is some time off in my future where I might be able to sit down with the other games once the reviews are done. There is also a chance that other games could enter the scene that need to be reviewed as well, so everything goes on the back burner once again. At least the light is somewhat visible...

Game of the Week (11/18): Mass Effect

The gaming crunch finally subsides after this week. What is weird is that many of the games that are shipping this week I already have in my possession, but we'll get into that later. This is another tough week to pick a Game of the Week, but I think it has to go to:

There are some other interesting games coming out (highlighted below), but the honor has to go to Mass Effect, the next RPG game from BioWare. I already have my copy and played it a bit last night (I have a lot of games on my plate at the moment, including review needs) and I have to say I am quite impressed by the graphics, the story, the huge amounts of text/voiceover in the informational screens and even the gameplay itself. I just finished the first planet and will probably play more, but it isn't on the front burner at the moment. Yes, it is a lot like Knights of the Old Republic, but things are handled mostly in real-time outside of switching your teams weapons before a fight. The game takes things from Gears of War, such as reliance on cover, and makes it an engaging experience. No question this is the Game of the Week and should fulfill everything people have been looking for in an RPG on the 360 finally.

Other games this week:

Unreal Tournament III (PC): Played the demo and was pretty impressed by it, but I am not a very good UT player when compared to the masses out there. The game is as fast as I remember the last version being and a lot of fun should be had. I'm not sure if this will stand above other FPS games that have valid online components or not though.

Link's Crossbow Training w/ Wii Zapper (Wii): Not excited in the least about this. From all accounts the actual Wii Zapper controller is a dud and really won't amount to much in the end. It is cool that it combines the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, but I can only see its validity going so far.

Rock Band (360/PS3): Yes, Rock Band. I've never really been a big fan ever since it was announced. Harmonix seems to be a highly regarded developer (which they are given the pedigree of games they've made) and everyone falls face first into loving them. From all accounts, the difficulty in Rock Band is not as high as Guitar Hero III (expert in RB is like Hard or possibly Medium in GH terms) and I would think that would turn a lot of people back from getting this game, but what do I know? I think it is cool for people that want to do stuff with 3 others, but for me I'd rather have single or dual guitars to play with.

Time Crisis 4 (PS3): Still a pretty popular series, but it would be hard to justify $80 for a short game with a gun included don't you think?

Godzilla Unleashed (PS2/DS): I did some interview questions a while ago for GameShark, but I have no clue if they were ever answered or not. The game from all the movies and developer diaries has looked good, but the play is the true test. Much like the recent Dragon Ball Z game the Wii version is delayed a few weeks from the PS2 release.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3): Sony did end up sending it out early last week, but I took that out of last week's GotW stuff since it was looking like the 20th was still the release date. I have the game, but have not gotten a chance to play it as of yet. Much like Mass Effect it is on the back burner

Soulcalibur Legends (Wii): All indications are that this is a bad game, which is too bad considering it could have been a worthwhile 3rd party release on the Wii (of which there are very few).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Game of the Week (11/11): Super Mario Galaxy

Everyone, check your wallets because this is quite possibly the toughest week this season with games depending on what type of stuff you're looking for. Next week is the only one that could come close to challenging it. This is also a tough week to pick a Game of the Week, but one key first-party title stands out:

Yes indeed, Super Mario Galaxy is my pick for Game of the Week. This should be the game that will prove whether all those millions of people who have picked up the Wii are interested in more than just Wii Sports. This was a tough one to pick out of the group, but here are some other notable releases this week.

Assassin's Creed (360/PS3): This game is either going to be really good or fall flat on its face. Ubisoft has a lot invested in this game and I have a hard time believing that a game years in development is going to flop, but then I read the latest EGM which had a small story on AC and it didn't make me that excited. Then some reviews popped out late last week, like from the hometown magazine Game Informer, that gave it a 9.5. Evidently review embargoes are held until Tuesday, so we shall see what happens then. At least they give you a day to decide if you truly want it.

Beowulf: The Game (360/PS3/PC): Another game from Ubisoft this week. This one is based upon the movie coming out this Friday. I'm interested in possibly renting this game, although it is a game based upon a movie which usually falls flat in the videogaming universe.

Blacksite: Area 51 (360/PC): The PS3 version is delayed for a bit, but the 360 and PC versions are coming out this week. I'm not very interested simply because the Area 51 game that came out last generation wasn't anything to get excited over. It is funny that Midway moved this away from Halo 3 and now it faces off against a lot of top notch games this week which are not FPS games.

Crysis (PC): What more can be said about this game? It looks nice, but many people won't be able to get the best out of this game unless they purchase an all new computer with bleeding edge components. Some people will do such a thing, personally I don't think this game is big enough to justify such an action. Having played the demo and the beta, I still feel it is a lot like an updated graphical version of FarCry with a new storyline.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PS2): The Wii version is coming next month, but given how good the last game was this one should be good as well. Atari is in a world of hurt right now and they could really use a sales influx in order to keep this license and keep themselves from going under.

Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (360/PS3/PC): Really haven't kept my eye on this game, but the big pull here is the ability to play co-op. EA's Army of Two sounded similar to this game and was going to be out this same week, but EA moved it back to next year. Now this game stands alone and Eidos probably has a lot riding on it.

Medal of Honor Heroes 2 (Wii/PSP): This game seems to be a big surprise in the controls section. IGN gave it an 8.4, which is pretty high. It also has a 32-player online component for the Wii AND it supposedly runs well. That is amazing in itself and should give an Wii owner something to smile about with games upcoming.

Need for Speed ProStreet (360/PS3/Wii/PC/PS2/DS): EA Canada takes the NFS series in what looks like an all-new direction. This could be good or bad. I liked the demo for what little you got to play out of it, but I am also apprehensive about changing a formula that I felt wasn't broken with Most Wanted and Carbon. This game seems to be centered around street racing and around teamplay. Supposedly I will be reviewing this for GameShark on the 360.

SimCity Societies (PC): While Maxis is still hard at work on Spore, EA moved the next SimCity game to Tilted Mill, best known for Caesar IV up to this point. This game looks interesting and looks to take the series in a new type of direction. Unfortunately it will probably be mostly overlooked with everything else coming out this week.

WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 (360/PS3/Wii/PS2/PSP/DS): Finally...the Rock has come back to PS3! Last year's game on the 360 was really good, but it still sounds like the loading times are here which is just a buzzkill and something that should be fixed by now several years into this series. Career mode sounds like it is more open, but I tend to wait for reviews of this game before even touching it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Game of the Week (11/4): Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Well, I'd say last week's pick of The Witcher was actually a good one. I haven't picked up the game yet, but outside of the huge amount of loading the game sounds like a winner, especially with the version 1.1 patch. This week was not as hard as some other ones will be in November. The only true standout:

Yep, the no-brainer this week is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare coming out on 360, PS3, PC and DS. I will be picking up the PC version simply because I have been with Infinity Ward since the beginning on the PC; plus it is $10 cheaper than the 360/PS3 versions. It sounds like single-player is short (which is not unusual for the CoD games), but the multiplayer is where the action is at.

Other notable games this week:

Empire Earth III (PC): I liked the last game in the series and can't believe they'd screw this one up.

F.E.A.R. Expansion (PC/360): The standalone F.E.A.R. expansion comes out this week. I only played a bit of the original, I should pick it up now that I have a better video card.

Gears of War (PC): The game comes out on PC, now with extra levels. Wonder how powerful a computer will have to be to make this look as good as the 360 version?

Viva Pinata (PC): If you missed this game on the 360 and have a computer, it is imperative that you pick this up. The kids will love it and you will love it.

Strong PC-centric week before the consoles take over for the rest of the month.

Sam and Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa (PC/Gametap): The second season starts for this series on Gametap this week. It is great to have Sam and Max around again honestly.

Sony Ads and Timeshift

Someone must have awoken the sleeping giant. After screwing up time and time again Sony actually has a, dare I say it, great ad campaign going on. After last year's launch campaign with the crying baby ad, exploding Rubix Cubead , and the crazy Sixaxis egg ad. The only good ad to come out was the one for MLB 07.

Sony now has brought an ad campaign that is truly the best they've had in a long time. Here is the 60 and 30 second commercial that shows off first party games via the Playstation Blog. In the 60-second commercial they show off Gran Turismo 5, Ratchet and Clank Future, Uncharted, Warhawk, Heavenly Sword, Spider-Man 3 on Blu-Ray, the upcoming Home and the Playstation Network. That is the way to make a commercial that gets people excited about a system. I already own the PS3, but man that commercial jazzed me up. I'm a big fan of the Saliva song used here, but I know many people don't like it.

Also, while watching football yesterday I saw commercials for Assassin's Creed, The Simpsons Game and Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. The funny thing about the first two is that they were PS3 ads where only the PS3 logo was shown even though both games are out for the 360 and other systems in the case of The Simpsons Game. Sony must have paid big money to advertise these games and make the illusion that they are PS3 only. I thought the Ratchet and Clank one was very funny. Maybe the new $399 price was the catalyst for Sony actually making great synergistic commercials (since they all end with the PS3 w/appendages turning into a regular PS3). All I can say is Sony has certainly brought its A game to the arena for the holiday and maybe this will finally spark some sales.

Even though they took out Backwards Compatibility, dropped the hard drive down to 40GB, took out the memory card readers and eliminated a couple USB ports the PS3 is very attractive at $399 with the Spider-Man 3 Blu-Ray movie included. It's amazing how far Sony has come since last year's $599 release at 60GB and $499 at 20GB. Now they are more in line with the 360 and even though the 360 has more software choices I think Sony is on the right track. It's just too bad it took them to wake up to reality.

OK, enough about that, let's talk about Timeshift for the 360. I will be reviewing it for GameShark and I'm close to being done with the game and then trying out the multiplayer side of things. I have not read any reviews (I like to come at my reviews from a clean perspective), but I have seen the scores. They seem to be squarely in the 7s and in the case of Gamespot a 6.5. Then again this is Aaron Thomas writing again, the guy who gave Ratchet and Clank Future a 7.5 while other sites are handing it scores in the 9s.

Just given the scores for Timeshift I have to say I largely don't agree with them. I am going to guess that many of these reviews are probably comparing this game to the ones that it is sandwiched between: Halo 3, The Orange Box and the upcoming Call of Duty 4. It's unfortunate that this game comes out in the middle of those three, but come on! This game is really good and I personally am surprised how good it is. The graphics are really good (with a little tearing here and there if you move the camera slowly), the puzzles are not too hard, the time powers are cool and the game is pretty lengthy. If there are weak points it is in the story itself and the AI is pretty dumb. The story is told through flashbacks and really doesn't get you at all interested in it. It is the standard time-travel sci-fi mumbo jumbo. At one point before the game was bought by Vivendi the main character actually had a name and I believe was going to be voiced by Randy Quaid. Now you are just an unnamed physicist who is going after the other time suit that the overall leader of the experiment stole and went back in time to change the past. The other problem is the dumb AI. You can really trick them into coming at you in smaller groups than one big group where you have to be on your toes. They are pretty good shots, but they'll stand in the middle of the road shooting at you, making them easy targets for a time freeze and kill.

Unless the game falls apart in the last 1.5 levels I just don't see this game being in the 6 or possibly even the 7 category. It is unfair to rank a game given the other games out there. Timeshift cannot compete with the total number of games in The Orange Box and it cannot compete with already established franchises (Halo 3, Call of Duty 4), so why even bring them into the review? Let the game stand on its own. It is a really good FPS game that is a sleeper in my mind, but it obviously won't get much business with it coming out this time of year and so many other games out there competing for our gaming dollar. Would it have helped to hold the game back to early next year? Well, it was already a pretty late game as it is, but what would have hurt other than the financial quarter to bring it out early next year? It could have been another success like Lost Planet was.