My name is Jim, but a lot of people call me Jimbo. I'm a budding journalist, and I write about two things in general: video games and baseball. I love fusing the two into my baseball game reviews to try and find the perfect baseball experience. There probably will never be one, but there are ones that come close.
My favorite games of all time (not named Zelda, Mario, or Sonic) are ActRaiser for Super Nintendo, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan for Nintendo DS, Ninja Gaiden on Xbox/PS3, and the best golf game ever made, Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf for the Sega Genesis. As you've seen (and will see), I like imports, especially since the Japanese get games we will either never see, or will see about 10 years after they originally come out (see Yakuza 2 and 3).
You know how people rip on Dynasty Warriors games for never doing anything different, no matter how they re-skin the series? That style of criticism has recently hit the juggernaut Call of Duty series.
Essentially the same game we have been playing since 2007, Modern Warfare 3 is the final part of the overarching story that began four years ago, while adding some new tricks to the multiplayer. However, with a new developer behind the series in Sledgehammer Games along with the remnants of Infinity Ward, what will become of this game?
The campaign takes place right after the conclusion to Modern Warfare 2. Soap, the main character from the first game who somehow gained and lost the ability to speak in one game, is being taken care of by his comrades in war Captain Price and Nikolai. Meanwhile, Delta Force is trying to fight back the Russian invasion of New York City. Along the way, there will be the usual world-hopping in the search for Makarov, the man who started World War III, and also playing from multiple perspectives. Nothing really special or different, but what I will say is that the game has one of the most satisfyingly brutal deaths I have ever seen at the end.
Every other year, I make mention of how incompetent Treyarch is when making their Call of Duty games, and that incompetence seems to have bled into Modern Warfare 3. One of my biggest complaints about Black Ops last year was that it didn't feel concussive enough when you got shot. In past games, up to Modern Warfare 2, it felt like you really did with some good sound design and a jolt from the controller. That wasn't the case with Black Ops, and it isn't the case with Modern Warfare 3. You really do feel like a sponge, which actually takes some of the tension out of the game.
Many of the same problems still remain. The game will often momentarily shut off its hit detection for a particularly annoying enemy or set of enemies, weapons are slow to reload at the worst possible time, and the campaign will often put you in no-win situations unless you do exactly what the game wants you to, which sometimes isn't immediately apparent. One level in particular towards the end of the campaign is the worst instance of fake difficulty I have ever seen in a CoD game.
In fact the campaign is also a reminder of my waning love for Call of Duty. It was annoying to see that the campaign was only six hours long in the first two MW games, but it was refreshing to see it lengthened to eight to ten hours in Black Ops (pretty much the only good thing I had to say about that game). In MW3, the length has been restored to the now-standard six to eight hours, but the ending is brutally satisfying...if you can get around the fake difficulty that permeates later levels of the game.
Unlike the campaign, the multiplayer has undergone a couple of changes since Call of Duty 4's groundbreaking persistent multiplayer in 2007. The wager matches (that I liked) in Black Ops are absent, as is the zombies mode (which I despise). Instead, there is the Special Ops mode which made its debut in Modern Warfare 2, which is kind of like zombies, but not as brain-dead (no pun intended).
The multiplayer is just as addictively frustrating as it always has been. A social player like me will have tons of trouble against the legions of get-a-lifers who play the game, and it feels that the divide is even worse than before. If you don't play Call of Duty online at least 17 hours a day, then you don't have a snowball's chance. I don't hate CoD's multiplayer, I hate CoD's community.
That last statement leads to this in the community...
Personal diatribes aside, the multiplayer has gotten some needed tweaks, like a couple new game modes, redesigned perks and Strike Packages. In addition, guns level up along with your player, so it really does add incentive to be proficient (or at least competent) with the entire range of weapons. For the first time, I found myself using all five custom loadouts available to me, and using all kinds of different weapons. This is worth commendation to get me (and hopefully other players, though it's unlikely) out of their comfort zones.
However, everything else is exactly the same run-and-gun that people have grown to either love or despise over the years. There are no legitimate strategies (camping is not legit), all you can do is keep moving, running and gunning, hoping that you get the first shot and at the right time. It will only get worse once the cheaters and the modders start having their way.
The aesthetics of the game are not even worth mentioning. Call of Duty's engine is really starting to show its age, especially since at its core, it's still a heavily upgraded and modified Quake III engine. Not to mention the set pieces, while bombastic, didn't leave any sort of impression on me. I didn't feel any emotion for the characters, I wasn't thrilled by the on-rails segments, it's just the same old thing. We've come a long way since the nuclear blast in Call of Duty 4, and the “No Russian” sequence in Modern Warfare 2. The bag of tricks has run dry for this series.
NO IT IS NOT! YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!!
Despite all the negative things I've said, Modern Warfare 3 is by no means a bad game. It's just the same game that has been churned out since 2007, with no innovation to be seen at all. It's a darn shame too, because Call of Duty used to be an excellent series. Now, it's just no fun. This is worse than Madden: at least they make an attempt to change things in that series. Call of Duty is starting to fall into the Dynasty Warriors classification: nothing ever changes, everything is ordinary. While not as bad as Black Ops, it still leaves a lot to be desired to reach the plateaus that Call of Duty 4 hit.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is worth nothing more than a 7 out of 10.
With the announcement that Ezio Audiatore de Firenze will be in the upcoming Soulcalibur V, I've decided to transcend history and the world to rate the Soulcalibur guest characters!
These often out-of-place characters have always been a sticking point not just for fans, but for fighting game fans in general. While SNK's fighting games used so many crossovers that they managed to make (soon to be) 13 games out of it, Namco-Bandai's weapon-fighting game series has been at the forefront of out-of-place guest characters. I've decided to rate them on how worthy they are of being in Soulcalibur, how much sense they make, and how cheap they are/can be (because as we all know, Soulcalibur doesn't have any cheap characters at all *end sarcasm*). These will be in no particular order, but by the context, I'm sure my dear readers (all six of them) will get where I'm going.
There are no guest characters in Soul Edge and Soulcalibur, so let's start with the one that everyone got to play back in 2003, Soul Calibur II! And guess what? We get three of them! One each for the Xbox, PS2 and GameCube.
PlayStation 2 Version The big boss of the Tekken series makes sense because the series had been PlayStation-exclusive since the first game way back on the PS1 in 1995. But at the same time, he makes no sense at all. Want to know why? He has no weapons!
Before anybody goes nuts on me, I'm sure that Heihachi has had his fists (and possibly his geta sandals) registered as deadly weapons considering all the rear he kicks in the myriad Tekken games, but unless you're Dhalsim, you can't use your fists at about three to five feet away, and they most certainly are not bladed!
However, as your typical hard-hitting character, Heihachi is actually pretty good. If you can close distance well, then his raw power and excellent combos will keep anyone off their feet, not to mention in Soulcalibur, you have the advantage of ring outs. Heihachi is only as cheap as you make him, like most characters in the Tekken series (unless you're Eddy Gordo/Christie Montiero).
Xbox Version: Spawn I don't have much of a comment here. As far as weapons go, Spawn makes pretty darn good sense considering his giant axe. He's a big and slow character, very similar to other characters in the series like Nightmare or Astaroth.
He actually kind of makes sense in his appearance too. Spawn is from hell, and from the looks of it, Inferno (SC2's final boss) is kind of like hell incarnate to begin with. There can be only one big boss of hell, and Spawn's out to kill the imitators...I think. Eh, good a reason as any for Spawn to be in Soulcalibur II.
GameCube Version: Link Any arguments have been made for me here. Link, as a traditional sword-and-shield warrior, makes perfect sense for the Soulcalibur universe. I get the feeling that his template was referred to very heavily for Ezio because of the myriad weapons the two have.
Link's got his trusty Master Sword, arrows, bombs, and boomerangs available to him available at all ranges, but they can be pretty cheap, especially if one stands back and spams the unblockable arrow attacks.
Soulcalibur III KOS-MOS
This one is kind of weird, and she really isn't a guest character per se. To "unlock" her, you have to create her in a specific way in the character creation. The Soulcalibur Wiki makes a valid argument that since she's an android, she must be created, and since created characters can be given any weaponry and fighting style the player chooses, it's sort of like the way she can use her nanomachines to form weaponry in the Xenosaga games.
Still, I find it difficult to truly call KOS-MOS a guest character since she wasn't created specifically to be in Soulcalibur III, and she doesn't have any of her weaponry from the Xenosaga games. Upon further review though, it's probably just as well that she doesn't. I decided to put her in since she's the closest you can get to a guest character in Soulcalibur III.
(*sigh*) I think we are all in agreement that Soul Calibur IV was a bastion of bad ideas when it came to guest characters. I mean come on, Star Wars?! Before anything else happens, let's take an honest look at how the characters actually play.
Darth Vader The man who ceased to be Anakin Skywalker actually makes the most sense out of all the Star Wars cameos in terms of play-style. He's tall, he fights very much how a regular sword duelist would (albeit with some more kendo-style moves) and he can also get physical much better. Probably because he's more machine now than man, but that's another story. In essence, if he wasn't the Dark Lord of the Sith, he would be a good template for a new Soul character.
Yoda This sounded like a bad idea from the outset, and it ended up being even worse in execution. Yoda is, hands down, the WORST guest character in Soulcalibur there has ever been. Because of his small stature, most attacks will go clean over his head! That is barely forgivable, but the worst offense of all is that he can't be thrown. Ever. Your only hope of beating Yoda is that you catch him with a lot of sweeps and also intercepting him in mid-attack or mid-jump.
I refuse to make another Star Wars joke to end this paragraph.
Starkiller/Galen Marek As if the Star Wars cameos couldn't get any worse, here is one of the most unbalanced characters I have ever seen in a fighting game. I know that Starkiller's game is all about speed (hence the underhand lightsaber grip), but with how long it takes to get your guard up in Soul Calibur IV, you might as well just drop the controller and turn the game off.
What makes him just the slightest bit better than Yoda is that he can be had, but only through careful counter-attacking and basically beating him at his own rushdown game. In a sense, Starkiller is the ultimate rushdown character, but that only makes him all the more cheap.
That's about it for Soul characters. I did not include Kratos in Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny because I did not play that game, and from what I've heard, I don't want to. However, I'm still looking forward to Soulcalibur V when it comes out, as it is the only fighting game other than Street Fighter my friends play.
Here it is, the end of one of the most celebrated trilogies in recent gaming memory. Gears of War 3 has a lot of significance for many gamers, as it was the first “next-generation” series for the round of gaming consoles that we enjoy today. Specifically, this game, along with Halo and Call of Duty, have defined the Xbox 360. Five years later, the trilogy is set to wrap up, but how has Gears evolved since the last game in 2008?
Make no mistake: if you are playing Gears of War 3, either single or multiplayer, then you will be entertained for a good long time. There have been excellent additions to just about every mode, and the gameplay is more or less the same. Couple that with good multiplayer and you have something very engrossing, but isn't too different from what we've already played.
Wait, boobs?! In a Gears of War game?!?! The meatheads will be pleased!
Taking place about 18 months after the end of Gears of War 2, the human population has been scattered around the rest of the planet of Sera. The main characters, including Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago, are living aboard a large ship called the “Raven's Nest,” trying to escape both the Locust Horde and the Lambent, the new enemy that debuted at the end of the last game. Marcus gets a data disc with a message from his presumed-dead father, Adam Fenix, which is the impetus to try and find him. And so begins a last-ditch effort to not only find Marcus's father, but also to save the human race from both the Lambent and the Locust.
Saying anything else about the campaign would veer dangerously into spoiler territory, but rest assured that there is enough there to keep players coming back. Even better is that the story now has four-player cooperative online play for the first time, which is a welcome addition over just having one other player as in the first two games. The story does have its emotional moments, but the biggest problem is that these come at such inopportune times that discerning gamers will get plot whiplash. Also, I can't help but notice that cover has been somehow deemphasized a bit. Maybe this was because I played cooperatively with three other friends, but I found myself not diving for cover as much as in the past two games. These are but small complaints, as the rest of the game is packed to the gills with content.
Horde Mode, first introduced in Gears of War 2, has undergone a small transformation itself. Using the same wave-themed basis as the original, it seemed to take some pointers from the renowned Nazi Zombies mode in Call of Duty, while adding more strategy and thought to the gameplay. And, you know, not sucking.
Players can build fortifications using the cash they earn from completing waves and also fulfilling special conditions in bonus rounds. The cash earned also allows you to get more ammunition, set up decoys, and set up more bases on the map. Up to five players can try to get through 50 waves, which get progressively more difficult, to the point where players will need a full complement and their heads on swivels to clear all the waves.
Horde Mode's additions give much-needed upgrades to a mode that didn't feel completed when it was originally in Gears 2. Epic could have left it at that, but then decided to add a new mode to the game, entitled Beast Mode. This cooperative multiplayer mode also allows for five players, and puts players in the shoes of the Locust Horde as they try to annihilate the COG forces.
Doo eeeet!! I'm right here! Kill me!! (Predator fans, pat yourself on the back)
Some similarities between the two shine through, as players get money for killing (computer-controlled) opponents and by wrecking fortifications. What makes this mode stand out is that the money isn't used for defensive upgrades, but rather to select the Locust you want to play as. Ever wanted to play as a Theron Guard? How about a Berserker? Maybe one of the new monsters shown in the campaign? There is something for everybody, and even better, the same sense of strategy that players get on Horde Mode.
This is the standout multiplayer mode in Gears of War 3, and must be played by everyone who picks this game up. It's just good old-fashioned fun, and it even has a bit of competition in it, as you and your friends can race to see who gets the most money, and who can unlock the highest tiers of Locust first. The only disappointing thing is that Beast Mode only has 12 waves compared to Horde Mode's 50. Hopefully this will be addressed in post-launch downloadable content.
However, while the cooperative parts of the multiplayer are fine and dandy with plenty of welcomed additions, the adversarial multiplayer just falls flat. Nothing in it is different at all from the first two games, aside from the maps. While taking cover has never been a viable strategy in multiplayer, it is still infuriating to see that all players really need to do is get out their shotguns, run to one spot, get into close-quarters combat, and roll out of the way when getting shot at. It's repetitive, it's boring, and does not require much skill or strategy. The biggest problem is that it spreads to all other modes, meaning that even if you're playing an objective mode, there's no point in changing tactics.
What I am happy to say about all this is that the matchmaking problems that plagued Gears 2 have been fixed. Players can jump right into matches with little to no difficulty or waiting. The back of the game box even touts the “fast and fair” servers on the back, which I can actually agree with!
Gears of War 3 brings a satisfying close to the trilogy that defined this current generation. With a great suite of features that will please any gamer, great cooperative multiplayer modes and refined gameplay mechanics, it's more than enough to overlook the flawed adversarial multiplayer and drab graphics which have two shades: brown and gray.
Before I begin, I'm going to say this right now: I am not going to make any claims about being right on this topic. The logic may be flawed, the argument laughable, but dammit, I'm trying to do something other than rank-and file reviews! (^_^) I'm writing this to spur intellectual debate on this topic, although the phrases “intellectual debate” and “Final Fantasy” is a pipe dream at best. With that in mind, here we go. Besides, repeat to yourself “it's just a blog, I should really just relax.”
Final Fantasy XIII is one of the most polarizing games I've ever played. I personally don't have many qualms with it, but a lot of people seem to, including Destructoid's Jimmy Sterling. Our favorite big Brit gave the game a scathing 4 out of 10, and while he primarily razed the game's shortcomings with the battle system, a lot of other reviewers and people I've talked with seemed to get hung up on something that I thought was a really dumb complaint. It wasn't the inane characters, dumb story, or the dreaded “press X to win” battle system, it was the linearity of all things that people got hung up on.
Herein lies the topic I'm going to discuss because everything else about the game speaks for itself. I'm here to talk about why the complaints about Final Fantasy XIII's linearity are invalid.
My favorite point to make (and the one that nobody has any rebuttals to, I hope that changes) is that every Final Fantasy game has been linear to some extent or another. After playing XIII, I decided to play Final Fantasy IV—one of my favorite games in the series—for comparison. The game two games can't compare with their gameplay, but the progression is almost exactly the same. You are more or less forced to go from one point to the next, going where the people in the town tell you to.
Let's use other examples in the series. Final Fantasy VI, the best game in the series (sorry, FF7) relies on that linearity, at least for the first half of the game. Its successor is also highly linear until you hit Disc 3, which is about 30 hours in if you take your time with it.
Hell, while we're at it, let's use the JRPG genre itself as an example. Dragon Quest is very linear itself, as is Parasite Eve, Xenogears/saga, and even my beloved Shin Megami Tensei series more or less railroads you along the path the game wants you to follow, yet nobody talks about the linearity of those games.
Now, I know what people are saying: “none of these games deliberately railroad you like XIII does.” Actually, think about it this way: the game outright tells you to go that way. You have no other choice because if you do go off the beaten path, you're going to get killed. The world map in most Final Fantasy games is a lot like the 2008 Bionic Commando remake or Call of Duty games: you can see vast, sprawling landscapes as far as the eye can see, but you can't go there.
But here's what really sticks in my craw and makes no sense to boot: everybody talks about how superior Western RPG's are due to their apparent “non-linearity.” Here's a few examples of RPG's that are not only linear, but some people wouldn't even go as far to call them RPG's. Dragon Age and Mass Effect (the second games of both, in particular) are both pretty linear once you get into combat zones, and even then, total freedom is an illusion.
And on your left, you will see areas you never get to travel to.
The Elder Scrolls is the only real exception to this (at least that I've played) because the story is nothing more than a suggestion. The Ultima Underworld series is also that way. But therein probably lies our enjoyment of JRPG's, and the one thing that Final Fantasy had going for it for so long: the stories. A good story can forgive a lot of things, including linearity. Persona 4 is linear as hell, maybe even moreso than Final Fantasy XIII, yet nobody complained about Persona 4's linearity. Instead, people concentrated on the spectacular Social Link system. I guess P4 gets a pass because it's primarily a dungeon crawler, but if we're going to talk about JRPG's, why should there be an exception to a certain subsection of the genre? Why should Rougelikes and dungeon crawlers be treated differently than a “traditional” JRPG?
Getting back on track (I guess this has gotten a bit tangental), Final Fantasy XIII is guilty of linearity, but why have people noticed just on this game, when it has clearly happened in the series almost since the beginning? Final Fantasy XIII may be a bad game, but I think a lot of the nerd rage has been misguided.
Why is linearity a bad thing anyway? A lot of people will complain about how a game is “too linear,” while turning right around and saying one of their favorite games is, say, Gunstar Heroes. Like I said, Final Fantasy has had a history of being linear, it's just that people decided to notice with XIII.
Next time on my blog, the Destructoid community takes pictures of my drawn-and-quartered corpse and puts them up on the forums!
Let it be known that 2011 was the year that shooters attempted to take down Call of Duty. One major player this year is the vaunted Battlefield 3, while a relative unknown is also attempting to take down Activision's juggernaut series. That company is longtime player THQ, and they teamed up with Kaos Studios, makers of only one previous game: 2008's Frontlines: Fuel of War for the Xbox 360 and PC. That game was...mediocre at best. Has Kaos learned some lessons and put together an elite shooter in Homefront, one that can take down CoD?
At first, the answer seems like it could be an emphatic yes. The big selling point behind Homefront is that it has a good piece of speculative fiction, penned by the master of such, John Milius. This is the same guy that wrote two classics of the war movie genre, Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn.
The year is 2027, and the North Koreans have actually become a world power, unifying the peninsula, conquering Japan, and now taking over a weakened United States. The land of the free and home of the brave, in the preceding years to the game, was ravaged by a rise in oil prices, so much so that gas hits $20 a gallon (due to a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran), not to mention a wave of bird flu also kills millions. The Greater Korean Republic seizes this opportunity, irradiating the Mississippi River and using an EMP blast to kill all power in the States.
You play as a helicopter pilot living in Montrose, Colorado, when he is suddenly accosted by the KPA forces. The introduction to the game is meant to not only tug at your heartstrings, but also enrage you enough to want to take on the KPA all by yourself. It is also an effective framing device for the story, which takes you from the streets of Montrose all the way to San Francisco.
There are some moments that will chill you to the bone, like seeing people executed on the street, and a mother begging her child to not look as they are also gunned down. As chilling as the visage of Korean occupation is, at times it felt downright cartoony with how the bad guys were portrayed, so much so that I started to think, “Am I fighting a unified Korea, or am I fighting the Combine from Half-Life 2?”
As shocking and refreshing as it is to actually have a setting and a framed narrative for a first-person shooter, it's a damn shame that the game does absolutely nothing with it. The story itself is nothing more than an excuse to go and shoot Koreans, and Kaos Studios has also created a world that is--upon further research--implausible at best, ridiculous at worst. This is also the second game (of two) that Kaos has used dependence on oil as a plot device. Get off your pedestal, Kaos Studios. These are video games you make, the average gamer will not care about your political views.
Picking apart the inaccuracies and ripping Kaos for their grandstanding is best left to a different article (one that a particularly observant Destructoid user has already done), so I'll focus on another part of the story: the “my country 'tis of thee” jingoism that was way too prevalent when I played this game. I can understand the reasoning behind it, but give me a break, Red Dawn wasn't overtly patriotic like this, and neither was Apocalypse Now. What I did like was a maybe-not-so-subtle nod to Red Dawn in the second level, where there is a banner that says “Go Wolverines!”
The single-player campaign is just far too short, clocking in at just over four hours in my playthrough. I never complete games in one day, yet I did with Homefront. This continues a disturbing trend I've seen in video games: games that are pathetically short, claiming “the multiplayer will save it.” Even worse is that the game ends extremely abruptly, basically setting up a sequel, which almost every game does these days, and it's a massive disappointment. It ends in much the same way that Red Dawn did, but it didn't have the same feel that the movie did. There is no closure, no sense of accomplishment, it just...ends with THQ saying, “Ha-ha! Homefront 2 coming out, suckers! Give us your sixty bucks!”
As for the game itself...it does absolutely nothing to reinvent the wheel. Now this is not exactly a bad thing because if there's one thing gamers are afraid of these days, it's trying new things (buh-ZING!). If you've played ANY Call of Duty game before Homefront, then you'll be right at home with the controls. You just won't be familiar with the apparent lack of speed this game has. It runs at 30 frames per second instead of 60, which might not agree with some gamers. This is a minor complaint, but the framerate does have a tendency to chug when the action gets a bit too busy. However, it doesn't happen enough to really make it worth complaining about. The graphics are nothing special, either. A big problem I saw with the game, though, is that there is a LOT of texture pop-in. Either it gets better as the game goes on, or I just got so used to it that I stopped noticing it. I haven't seen pop-in like this since the first Assassin's Creed.
The only complaint I have about the gameplay is what I stated earlier: it's more or less a copy-paste of Call of Duty, right down to the pathetically short campaign.
Something that is worth complaining about however, is the outright DESPICABLE use of in-game advertising. Most people have dismissed it as “enhancing the feel that you're fighting on your home turf.” This cannot go unpunished because if there's one thing people hate in games, it's advertising. If anything, it draws you OUT of the experience, and this game is relentless. I've seen White Castle, Hooters, most of a level takes place in a Tiger Direct outlet store, and I even saw an ad—in the multiplayer no less—for Lumber Liquidators. I have never seen a more blatant use of in-game advertising, and it's sickening, to say the least.
The real draw of the game is its' multiplayer, though, so I'm more or less forced to take a look at it. The best way to describe it is a mix of Battlefield and Call of Duty. The player count goes up to 32 players, which is fairly impressive for a console shooter, and there are some other aspects that make the game a bit different than your garden-variety shooter. One of the best ideas comes in the form of Battle Points, which are almost like in-round perks. Getting kills or assists, capturing objectives and the like will net you Battle Points, which you can use to buy vehicles, assist items, and other stuff in the middle of the round.
However, Kaos drops the ball once again in a fairly elementary area: game modes. Out of the box, there are only two: Ground Control and Team Deathmatch. Ground Control is basically your standard Battlefield-type mode, and Team Deathmatch is just what it is. It's also the only mode anyone cares about (another article for another day), so you'll have a much quicker time finding a match there than with Ground Control. Again, just a vanilla multiplayer mode to go along with a vanilla campaign.
What is unique are the “Battle Commander” modes, which feel like Team Deathmatch with Halo Reach's Headhunter mode thrown in. As you rack up kills and get on a streak, you are marked with stars, making you an inviting target to kill. However, you skills do not go unrewarded, as you get faster, stronger and more aware of what's going on. It really does feel like a Pro Mode of sorts.
Something else to note is the “Battle Code” that THQ packs with every copy of the game. Similar to EA's Online Pass system, you need that code to get the full multiplayer experience. However, even if you don't, they were kind enough to let you play all the maps, but you can only go as high as level 5, limiting your unlockables severely, including the Battle Commander modes.
Homefront is the prototypical rental. The four-hour campaign and how it ends is a massive disappointment, and while the multiplayer can be pretty fun, this game is almost as bad, if not worse, than Call of Duty: Black Ops. I don't despise Homefront as much as Black Ops, but this is yet another generic shooter that brings nothing new to the table aside from a squandered setting. This game is NOT worth $60, and even if you do buy it used, THQ makes you buy that dumb $10 code to get everything out of the multiplayer.
Ah, MLB: The Show. One of two baseball series that makes me proud to be a PS3 owner. I've been playing the series on a yearly basis since MLB 08, and while it's been good, MLB 10 felt...too samey for some reason. The mechanics were still in place, but it felt a little reminiscent of some Japanese games of myriad genres: it rested on its laurels and refused to fix some nagging issues that would've made it the perfect baseball game.
So MLB 10 came and went, and I was disinterested for the year, instead looking at MLB 2K10 and being thoroughly impressed with how they FINALLY got their house in order with regard to pitching. The same problems were there: stupid objectives in Road to the Show (I'm a pitcher in the American League, why am I working on my DRAG BUNTING?!), horrendous online play, and mediocre to bad contact in relation to the batter's eye.
Mauer returns to own Kevin Butler again
With the game more or less stagnant since 2008, what does Sony San Diego do, knowing full well they still have the best baseball game in America? Surprisingly, there is a lot that they have done. The development team has actually gone to an all-analog control scheme, no doubt taking notice of MLB2K's newfound success in that department. Don't fret Show purists, because the button-based control scheme will still be available to you.
Game producer Chris Gill has been quoted as saying, "This is the feature everyone has wanted in our game for years, but we didn't want to do it until we could do it right. People have been asking for a new way to play the game, and now everything you do, whether you're swinging the bat, throwing to first or pitching the ball, it's all done with the right analog stick."
By "doing it right," I hope he means, "We're not 2K Sports. It won't take three years to actually make the controls respectable."
My biggest concern is the same as MLB2K's: home runs will be a dime a dozen. The mechanics are the same, you have to pull back on the stick to step, and follow through to swing. From everything I've read, there's more of a timing mechanic to it, as you have to time the step-then-swing, which means that breaking and off-speed pitches could give analog users headaches with their timing, just like in real life. In addition, you actually select what swing you want, whether it's normal, power or contact. This is an option that really should be left up to the player at the time of swinging, like in MLB2K.
Where any baseball game is worth its salt is in the pitching, and it had better be good, otherwise I'm going back to the old three-click meter scheme, which just isn't as engaging as Pro Yakyu Spirits' Best Pitch Timing system, or 2K's analog system. This system that The Show is using looks more reminiscent of MVP NCAA Baseball 2007 on PS2. The goal is that after selecting your pitch and location, you have to hit your spot by pulling back on the analog stick, and then moving it in the correct direction, depending on what side of the plate you selected, and I'm assuming your pitch. Pitch speed is also determined by how fast you press up on the stick for your follow-through, so for excitable players like me who go all-out with something like this, I'll probably be wearing my pitchers out by the 5th inning.
That's more of a lead than Texas ever had in San Fran in the World Series last year
All in all, it could be a very engaging system. I never played NCAA Baseball '07, but from what gameplay I saw, the pitching system looked great. If they can replicate it in The Show '11, then I'll likely be a happy camper. But there is one potential axle-breaking pothole. If you'll flash back to my MLB 2K8 review, you'll remember that I reported that even the slightest mistake in the game's horrific pitching controls meant that a pitch gets blasted into the stands for a home run. That is the one thing that is scaring the pants off me about the analog pitching in MLB 11.
Even fielding has been mapped to the analog sticks, and that is one area where 2K has excelled is in the field. It's not a hard thing to do, but where they could mess it up is that you're forced to pre-load your throw. Say there's a hot shot to third. There's no time to pre-load your throw, which is realistic I guess, but it could be problematic for the slow rollers and fielding bunts.
A few things need to be fixed, though. First of all is The Show's traditionally bad baserunning controls. The only series this generation to EVER get baserunning right is Konami's Pro Yakyu Spirits. It shouldn't be as hard as it is in The Show, and they should take a page out of Konami's book: square for advancing runners, triangle for sending them back, with the left analog stick pointing towards specific runners if you want to advance them individually.
Instead, The Show requires that you go through a maze of controls just to advance one freaking runner one freaking base! I've lost out on tons extra bases and runs thanks to The Show's shoddy baserunning controls that feel like I'm entering a cheat code rather than playing a baseball game.
Another thing I have to address is the series' traditionally laggy and basically unplayable online. I played a game of MLB 10 tonight online. Nine months after release, you would think that Sony San Diego's code would be up to snuff right? There shouldn't be much lag, ideally none at all, but some is acceptable. But no, there was lag up the wahzoo when I played! I struck out a couple times thanks to the lag and I also missed a spot when pitching in a crucial situation because of it! It's taken four games, and Sony still hasn't figured it out with regard to online.
They promise a lag-free experience this year, and senior producer Jason Villa went on record as saying, "right now with our testing it's as close to offline play as it gets. We're going to continue to improve the stability as much as we can. Some people will tell us they have great connections, others don't, and it's hard to determine what the cause is. You never really know until you ship and get out on the shelves, but believe me, we're doing our best to make sure it's as good as we can possibly get it."
I heard this promise too with Pro Yakyu Spirits 4 on PS3. That game was extremely laggy, but it was still better than The Show, because at least I could hit the ball and pitch rather well. All I can say is that Sony had better get it right, or they will have lost a longtime customer. This is also coming from a guy who has the highest-speed Comcast connection you can have, and I don't lag on any of my other games.
No, Matt Cain. They still won't notice you. But I will. ^_^
Finally, there's the fun but fatally flawed Road to the Show Mode. Since its inclusion in MLB '08, it's been a deal-maker for me, as I can live out my fantasies of being a Major League pitcher. However, there have been some problems with the system, and more changes have been made to the game itself. For example, dynamic goals are now out. In the past, you were supposed to meet certain goals in at-bats. Get ahead in the count, draw a walk, get a double play, advance the runner, all sorts of things. Now, your performance as a whole is measured, and there are more statistics involved with manager decisions. The training this year is level-based, which I hope eliminates the stupid training goals using points like past seasons (FREAKING DRAG BUNTING?! AND I'M A PITCHER?!!?!?!). Depending on how you do, the training will be flexible and progressive, and will naturally tack on more as you level up. Road to the Show has been called a "baseball RPG," but it certainly looks like it will be even more like that this year.
Other additions that have been made are cooperative play, for up to four players, 3D support (no headaches for me, thank you very much), support for PlayStation Move, and weekly challenges that may result in players getting real-world prizes, including grand prizes like trips to the All-Star Game or World Series. That is pretty cool, but let's see how they are in execution.
Finally, there have been yet more improvements to the game's aesthetics. First off, there are accurate broadcast cameras for every stadium (straight-on NESN camera at Fenway Park FTW!). Former Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros replaces the funny-but-grating Rex Hudler as the second color man in the booth alongside MLB Network's Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell. A dynamic rain and cloud system has also come into play, as that could affect on-field performance with regard to batted balls and fielding, but I still would like to see real-world weather. Also, there's a fake throw system implemented, but I don't know how effective this will be.
All in all, MLB 11: The Show is taking risks that the series needs to take. The game finally looks fresh again, and I certainly hope that it's more entertaining than last year, because last year's game was about as entertaining as the Red Sox were last year. With an up-and-coming MLB 2K series barreling down on it, The Show looks like it's going to keep its rival in the rear-view mirror.