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More demo impressions

February 20, 2012 Leave a comment

More demos today!

Darksiders

I played through a trial of the first hour of Darksiders, and I love the feel of the game. Everything is so big and meaty, every interaction feels so solid. It’s not as fast as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but I felt like I had interesting decisions to make during combat, and that’s very important. I even got a little interested in the plotline – I want to know who’s responsible for this apocalypse!

I’m not sure if I want to pick up the game and play through it; the demo didn’t really excite me, and I’ve heard that the full game is very Zelda-like: explore, backtrack, find an item, use it to advance, explore some more. I’m having more fun with the game right now as a directed, linear slash-fest.

Elemental Monster: Online Card Game

Elemental Monster kept my interest for a while, with a card mechanic that’s well-designed for console play (only 6 cards in a deck, with 3 active at a time) and some interesting decisions to make along the way.

Because Elemental Monster is a free-to-play game, I found that my fun was sapped somewhat as I kept wondering when they were going to tighten the screws. That’s how these games work; give you a lot of leeway at the beginning, let you advance quickly, then apply an increasing amount of friction and un-fun until you pay to get back to the fun. So that makes me hesitant to get into the game, because I don’t want to run into the paywall later.

I did notice that the online lobbies were totally empty. More about that later.

Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars

The long title of this game accurately describes the main control elements of the game – going supersonic, being acrobatic, and using rocket boost – but completely skips over the fact that it’s soccer. I only did some single-player content, but I found it to be really fun.

It’s a good example of how emergent gameplay can be created if you loosen the reins a bit and let the physics engine and the player’s creativity take the helm. There’s no gameplay ‘move’ for driving up a wall, jumping off, rocketing across the arena, and sticking to the other wall, but if you think it’s advantageous, you can do it. This game totally wouldn’t work if it had humanoid characters, and tried to have an animation for everything. But toy cars can flip, roll, crash, and bounce, and look great doing it, and with no more animation than spinning their wheels.

Like Elemental Monster, I found the online lobbies totally empty. I think there’s a fundamental problem in how online play works, especially with downloadable games that may not have as big an audience as larger titles. The chance that I’ll come home and say “I feel like playing Crash Commando with people online today” is pretty slim.

What’s more realistic to me is that I might say “I feel like playing an online game today.” Then I would load up some kind of centralized online matchmaking application, look over my list of games I own and the gameplay modes I’m willing to play, and start matchmaking. After a minute or so, I’d get a list of games, and be prompted to choose one and jump directly into that game. With that system, I’d be happy to leave something like Elemental Monster checked off, and then maybe a month down the road I’d notice that a few other people are looking to play Elemental Monster, and we can all jump right into a game together.

DC Universe Online

My experience was the same as the last half-dozen times: start up the game, it says it has 10 gigs of data left to download, let it sit for an hour or so, turn off the console. Maybe someday I’ll get to play.

I think developers need to haveĀ some kind of single-player content that the player can access pre-patch, pre-update, no online connection, etc. Just something so I can understand the viewpoint, the basic gameplay, and the genre of the game, and be able to make a judgment about whether I’m willing to wait for the game to download, or whether I just have a fundamental dislike for something about the game.

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Clearing out the Demo queue

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I spent a few hours this weekend clearing out my queue of demos, game trials, and free games I’ve received through Playstation Plus. Here’s a few sentences on each.

Choplifter HD

The last version of Choplifter I played extensively was on the Game Gear. This one was all right, but spent a little too long teaching each gameplay element. You fly, you land, you shoot – Choplifter isn’t supposed to need a lengthy learning curve.

Also, it’s probably just my nostalgia, but I felt like the Game Gear controls for turning around (tapping left or right) felt better than the modern controls (L1 and R1). Just more instinctual somehow.

Scarygirl

This is really an odd game. No, I take that back, it’s a pretty standard game with an odd premise. It definitely feels like you need to be familiar with the source material, because otherwise it comes off like someone watched A Nightmare Before Christmas and thought “Weird stuff = interesting characters.”

Probably the most interesting thing is how polished the game is. It has fluid animations, a varied combat system, upgrades, and branching paths…but it all just feels overproduced, especially considering that the gameplay is pretty close to the PS Minis version of Scarygirl. And now I look at the Scarygirl webpage, and there’s another, Flash-based Scarygirl game, same general controls, same story. Does the creator just have an obsession or something?

Stickman Rescue

I wasn’t expecting this PS Minis game to be Choplifter, but it totally is. And it’s pretty good! Each level is a mix of action and puzzle, as you prioritize which stickmen to rescue first while also nimbly avoiding fire and making sure you take out bombers and blimps before they kill your men. I had fun!

Mecho Wars

It’s Advance Wars, and I’m okay with that. It does have one cool feature, where the water on the game map will freeze at midnight, opening up the battlefield. It’s an interesting way to create chokepoints for interesting long-range gameplay, then release those chokepoints to reward high-speed skirmishers.

My complaint would be that the units don’t read well – looking at the sprites on the map, I don’t have an immediate sense of which ones are short-range, which are long, how to use them, etc.

Burgertime World Tour

I didn’t really get it. The game seems to assume familiarity with Burgertime, because it launches you right into the first level with no explanation of the controls or what your overall objective is. It seemed vaguely interesting.

Rage

The first thing I did in Rage was get lost trying to find my first objective. Not a good way to start the demo. Why is the mayor’s office on a narrow ledge, where you have to go around to the backside of a building then backtrack? Also, the only sign indicating the mayor’s office is on said backside of said building. I ended up getting involved in some kind of road race with terrible controls.

I finally got to the gunplay, and it’s…okay? Some people attacked me, I shot them. Guns are fairly generic, but I did thoroughly enjoy the bladed boomerang ‘wingsticks.’ Still, this one was very easy to turn off.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

I can see the appeal of the Paradigm system; rather than executing individual actions, you’re establishing strategies and switching between them. That being said, combat took too long and was pretty boring, especially against low-threat enemies where my combat strategy was just mashing ‘X’ for the whole fight.

Also, the shop interface is terrible. It’s surprising – the game offers some shortcuts to auto-equip your characters with their best equipment, but when buying items, it’s a chore. (Any game that doesn’t let you sell an equipped item, or at least switch it for the item you just bought, gets marked down for me.)

Lots of flash, not much content.

Qore

I get Sony’s e-magazine each month with my Playstation Plus subscription. I like watching it’s features, but I find it hard to imagine anyone actually paying for this. I mean, it’s essentially a bunch of trailers and ads. I feel like they should be paying me.

Asura’s Wrath

I wasn’t expecting the gameplay on this one to be closer to Panzer Dragoon than anything else. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the scenes are semi-interactive cutscenes, but at least they’re semi-interactive and feel exciting.

The downfall of this game may be the characters; even though I generally liked Asura, I didn’t develop any real attachment to his struggle, or any animosity for his enemies, during the course of the demo. Since this game is almost a movie, it’s going to live or die based on whether I want to see this movie through to the end.

The Darkness II

The Darkness II felt surprisingly good. A lot of press has been devoted to its ‘Quad-Wield’ mechanic, and it works. It really just amounts to a ‘quick grab’ and ‘quick melee’ button, but it’s very responsive and satisfying. I found myself intelligently adapting my tactics to the situation, using my guns at long range as I closed in, grabbing objects with one demon arm and moving into positions where I could slice enemies with the other.

I’d say that the biggest downside of the game is its violence and gore. Video games don’t bother me, but this one is gory enough that I don’t think I’d want to play it while anyone else is around. By the tenth head-pop or chest-burst, I just sort of felt embarrassed to continue playing.

Binary Domain

Generic squad shooter, go! A bunch of military grunts shoot everything that moves until it doesn’t move anymore. Unsatisfying gunplay, awkward controls, and unclear objectives get this one a ‘pass’ from me.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

This game has been sitting in my Steam list for a while, and it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! It’s a sort of tower offense game hidden behind a very polished modern military appearance. Behind all the explosions, airdrops, and shouting back and forth, it’s really just a game about leading a column of troops past some enemy towers and reaching an objective. I’m looking forward to playing it more, and I think it’s worth the $10 that Steam is asking.

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Playstation 3 Reviews

February 26, 2011 1 comment

More people in my circle of friends are getting PS3s, and it’s really exciting. It’s great to log on and see what people are playing, and potentially jump right in and start playing with them. There’s definitely a network effect to consoles, now that they’re all online, and a certain critical mass of friends where your focus can switch from single-player to multiplayer experiences. I think we’re approaching that point!

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do some reviews of PS3 games and accessories, to help my friends (and anyone else reading) to make good choices about what to buy. Is the Move worth it? Do you need the official headset? Stay tuned!

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