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7:31 PM on 11.07.2007

My Recently Played: Hellgate: London and Guitar Hero III

What a great couple of weeks it's been for games. I've managed to get my hands on two of the titles I'm sure many of you have heard of: Hellgate: London for the PC and Guitar Hero III for the PS2. One of these titles I adore, the other . . . not so much.

First, I'll get the bad out of the way. Hellgate: London is the new game from Flagship Studios, headed up by Bill Roper. Before forming Flagship, Roper and crew worked at Blizzard Entertainment on a little game series known as Diablo. Given the pedigree of the developers working on Hellgate, I expected the next great action-RPG. What I got, however, was an unremarkable dungeon crawl with highly repetitive gameplay and environments.

At its core, Hellgate is a game in the vein of the Diablo series: you create a character who uses either magic, melee or long-ranged attacks, fights tons of different enemies and collects massive piles of loot. Hellgate even brings in the randomization that Diablo had, which makes for endless iterations of the game's areas. But that's where the connection to brilliance ends for Hellgate. The game simply becomes boring because the gameplay is just too slow, which makes the game draaaaaag. Whereas in most action-RPGs, the excitement comes from quickly mowing through hordes enemies, Hellgate has you fighting one enemy at a time, each of which takes at least a couple blows to land. After ten hours with the game, I was upgraded to the occasional group of three to four. Bosses are few and far between. In fact, I think I never saw one boss in the entirety of my play, just “named” mobs who dropped a few extra pieces of loot. The game simply does a poor job of keeping you engrossed in the game, and as a side effect makes your character feel weak and unimportant.

The next issue I had was with the environments. Usually with RPGs of any type, you are treated to everything from grassy plains to snowy peaks to deep forest and everything in between. A variety of environments keeps the game fresh and the sense of adventure alive. However, Flagship was doomed from the onset in this regard: Hellgate: London takes place almost entirely (you guessed it) in post-apocaliptic London, which means burnt-out street after burnt-out street with a sewer level thrown in for good measure. As for the randomization of these levels, you quickly start to see the same art assets merely arraigned in different ways. In many ways this doesn’t make sense in the context of a real-life city: how can a place as iconic as, say, Picadilly Circus, look so wildly different from visit to visit? I think that if each level was constructed by an artist instead of an algorithm, the player would feel more drawn into the world.

But not all is doom and gloom! I had the good fortune of picking up Guitar Hero III with my girlfriend (we love to co-op together). I’m going to say this up front: this is the most fun Guitar Hero of the bunch. The set list is simply amazing, covering a wide breadth of musical genres including some of the greatest rock songs of all time, like “Paint it, Black”, “One”, “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, and “Welcome to the Jungle”. Everyone will find at least a couple of songs they love.

The gameplay of Guitar Hero III is follows the old phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But it damn if it isn’t super polished and still fun to play after all this time. I really feel that Neversoft made this game with the Expert players in mind (of which I am one). Some people complain that the songs are too difficult, but for long-time players, they will appreciate the challenge. With one notable exception, being more difficult doesn’t mean more aggravating, and in fact makes the game feel more than ever like you’re playing a real guitar (which I do). The only song I’ve had issue with is “Before I Forget” by Slipknot. The game is chord city and a pain on your hands and eyes to play. Neversoft should have looked at “Laid to Rest” on Guitar Hero II for an example of how to do heavy metal right.

I’ve also appreciated the addition of the co-op career. My girlfriend and I went all the way though the game in that mode and enjoyed it immensely. It made the process of unlocking songs much more fun for the both us since we didn’t have to trade off playing.

Well, thanks for sticking with me through that wall of text. Next on my list of games to play is Super Mario Galaxy, which I sure I will have nothing but good things to say about. Until next time!   read

12:16 PM on 10.18.2007

Okami proves that third party devs still don't get the Wii

The clogs have been asplode with news of Okami on Wii, most of which is glowing and excited. Certainly, Okami was one of the most shining examples of Good Game Design© from the last generation of games. But I see this as yet another discouraging development in third-party adoption of the Wii by developers. Does anyone else find that it disheartening that the most exciting news we’ve had in a long time for the Wii from a third-party is yet another quick last gen cash-in with tacked on Wiimote controls? Perhaps we’ll just have to wait until WiiWare for people other than Nintendo to really start taking advantage of the system. I know the third parties can adapt - just look at what they’ve done on the DS.

What do you think? Is this just a phase or will things like Resident Evil 4 and Okami continue to dominate the releases from third party developers?   read

7:10 PM on 10.15.2007

My Recently Played: Crowbar meets Master Sword

What a wonderful past couple of weeks it's been for gaming. I got my hands on copies of the latest and greatest to hit us this holiday season, The Orange Box and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. I have been enjoying both of these titles enormously and I thought that I'd share with Dtoid my ramblings on these games.

First, Zelda. I have to admit, for purposes of full disclosure, that I'm a Zelda whore. For all my hardcore PC-ness, there is just something about this little series from Nintendo that gets me all giddy and frothing on myself. The Legend of Zelda series has always been a great example of what makes console gaming great - the well designed levels, the colorful characters, the distinct art direction and sublime gameplay. So how does Phantom Hourglass stand up to the rest of the series?

For better or worse, it falls right in line with the rest of the Zelda games that have come out since Link to the Past. All the trappings of the series are here in full effects, including the items, dungeons, heart containers, Rupees in bushes and a Navi yelling "hey!" whenever you tap on something. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Depends who you ask. But for me, I have enjoyed this refined formula since I first played a Zelda game and I don't see anything wrong with it. Despite the similarities to past Zelda games, Phantom Hourglass is still a wonderfully designed game with a multitude of fun moments packed in.

The biggest addition to Phantom Hourglass is the stylus control. None of the buttons on the face on the DS can be used to control Link directly, and as such the control scheme takes some getting used to. I found that right off the bat, holding my stylus by anything but the very end resulted in my hand obscuring the screen when moving from right-to-left. People with large hands may have some difficulties, but I managed just fine holding the stylus more like a baton than a pen (Wind Waker anyone?). Because you can directly interact with elements on the screen, it becomes very easy to attack enemies with precision and execute some of the more advanced moves like the spin attack. Aiming the boomerang and bombs are a matter of drawing a path or tapping where u want them to go. Overall, I found controlling Link in Phantom Hourglass easier than I have found it in any other Zelda game.

The touchscreen also opens up some opportunities for unique game play, which the developers took full advantage off. I have never seen all the facets of the DS used in such an extensive way. The most often seen example of this in Phantom Hourglass is the use of the touchscreen to draw points on a map to create a shape or image that are used in some way. It’s difficult to describe without giving away some of the more interesting puzzles in the game. Overall, I’d recommend Phantom Hourglass to anyone with DS. The game isn’t necessarily revolutionary, but it is necessarily fun, which is what it’s all about.

Now for the Orange box, and in particular Half-Life 2: Episode 2. The original Half-Life is the game that got me into PC gaming, so it was with great anticipation that I waited for Episode 2 to unlock on Steam. As a long-time fan of the series, this Episode hit all the right notes - the most refined Half-Life gameplay seen to date, the most lush and varied environments, great story and character development and the most shocking ending to a Half-Life game ever. I’ll tell you right now, if you are at all a fan of the series or of great PC shooters, this game will knock your socks off.

My favorite thing about Episode 2 was the number of set-piece moments. There is no filler in this game - you are never running down an unremarkable hall blasting away with abandon. Every engagement with the Combine and antlions has been carefully calculated to advance the story or introduce new gameplay not yet exploited in the game. A fun example of this early on is fight against an antlion swarm with resistance fighters Griggs and Sheckley. As the humorous duo simultaneously tore up antilions and poked fun at each other (and Gordon), you have the responsibility of setting up gun turrets and covering angles they can’t. Like I said, saying too much more would simply ruin it. Best to just go out and buy the game, because five games in one box makes for one of the best values in gaming today. Team Fortress 2 is a blast and a half and I look forward to playing sometime with the Destructoid Steam group.

That does it for this edition of My Recently Played. If you stuck with me to this point, you are probably either really bored or insane. If you truly enjoyed this post, then I’m flattered. Either way, that’s not going to stop me from doing this again in the next couple of weeks. And what a next couple of weeks it is: Assassins Creed, Gears of War on PC, Guitar Hero III, Crysis . . . I just don’t know where I’ll find the money (or time). To all my fellow Dtoid’ers, enjoy!   read

1:54 AM on 10.10.2007

Orange Box is now available on Steam

As I write, my copy of Half-Life 2: Episode Two is being unlocked on Steam. If you pre-ordered and pre-loaded, hit up your client right now to get in on the fun!   read

6:37 PM on 09.24.2007

My Recently Played: Hyde Meets Big Daddy

It's been a while since I wrote in this thing, but that's a combination of heading back to college and getting wrapped up in some really good games! Over the past few weeks, I've had the pleasure of playing the universally lauded Bioshock for PC, and the slightly-under-the-radar Hotel Dusk: Room 215 for the DS. I'm not really going to review anything here, I'm just gonna tell you how my experience was playing these and my general opinion about them.

I'll start will Bioshock. I fired this baby up shortly after I finished building my new machine and binged on it. Hard. I played right up until I had to leave for school and then finished it up shortly thereafter. I completely enjoyed it - there wasn't another game this year that has engrossed me in such a way. I think the graphical polish of this game was the main contributing factor, the art and detail in the world of Rapture made it totally convincing. The Unreal Engine has some real horsepower and this was my first chance to see it in action. All in all, a great first impression. But it wasn't just the graphics that had me in a tizzy. This FPS has the most genre-pushing-forward gameplay I've seen in a shooter since Half-Life 2. The combination of weapons, plasmids to alter the environment and enhance your attacks, and the very environment itself provides a multitude of options for the player. I'm sure you heard this time and again in many reviews, but this is the reason Bioshock will be Game of the Year - you simply haven't played a game like this before (except arguably its spiritual predecessor System Shock). Keep your Halos and GTAs, Bioshock will make everything shooter that comes after it seem all the more stale and tired.

Now for something completely different. I got a DS for my birthday over the summer, so of course I was on the look out for some good games. Over the past year, I kept hearing the name Hotel Dusk pop up time and again. I knew it was a mystery game and took advantage the DS's hardware in interesting ways. It's no Pokeman or Mario in terms of press time, but Hotel Dusk deserves your play time if you are a DS owner. This game is simply so charming and well presented that you can't help but love it. Cheesy cop movie dialog intertwines with touch-screen puzzles and wonderful hand drawn characters push along a surprisingly engrossing story of betrayal, hope and discovery. I've read a few reviews of this game to see what the critics said, and of those that enjoyed it the least, they pointed out the "gimmicky" nature of the gameplay and poor dialog. I guess that all depends on how you approach it. Hotel Dusk is definitely a tongue-in-cheek homage to the pulp detective novels and films of the mid-twentieth century, but I feel that the game maintains enough distance from that to keep the characters and story plausible. As for gimmicky puzzle solving, I didn't feel this way. The only thing I didn't enjoy about Hotel Dusk was the occasionally arbitrary dialog choices that could lead to a game over, which requires an annoying replay of the entire dialog. However, you won't ever have to replay more than five minutes or so of the game.

Well, that's that. As for the next couple weeks, I hope to get my hands on some sweet Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress action (I already got Orange Box preordered on Steam) and possibly World in Conflict. And of course, I'll make every effort to get my hands on someone's 360 to get in some Halo 3. 'Till then!   read

9:13 AM on 08.21.2007

BioShock uses poor widescreen implementation!

I just read this link from this morning and I couldn't be more surprised and appalled. My most anticipated game in a long time will not run properly on widescreen monitors! Instead of using the 16:9, 16:10, etc aspect ration with a higher field-of-view (FOV), it's been discovered that the game just runs in the old fashioned 4:3 ratio and cuts off the top and bottom.

As an owner of a widescreen monitor for several years, I am severely disappointed. I'm even going as far to say that I may not be purchasing BioShock until the issue is resolved. As it stands, the game is simply crippled on my (and a large number of other people's) displays. Please, take some time and post at this thread here in the 2K forums to express your displeasure. Hopefully if 2K hears enough of us bitch about this otherwise fantastic game, we will see the issued fixed.

EDIT: This issue has been confirmed by people on the 2K forum to be occurring on the Xbox 360. It affects all people who use widescreen displays for their games.   read

11:07 AM on 08.20.2007

New PC upgrades (first poast!)

I suppose I'll make my inaugural DToid post on my latest gaming investment: some new parts I ordered this past weekend on You can see the new specs over in my profile on the right-hand side. I'm super stoked for this build, I can finally play all these new games in DirectX 10, specifically BioShock. Weeee!

I'll make another post a few days from now when the parts come in about assembling the beast (complete with pictures!). Stay tuned.   read

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