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“Se7en Favorite Games of 2010” or “Sheppard Plants Assassins Northrend Explosions Protoss Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom!”

January 3, 2011 3 comments

Note: Sorry this is a day late, I got caught up in some work stuff / my cat swallowed a hairball / my dog ate my blog post.

2010, much like everything else in life, had it’s ups and downs. The gaming industry continues to grow, and with growth comes more variety and better quality games. On the flip-side terrible games also stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against lauded AAA titles. All in all, I had a blast in 2010 playing video games, and despite some fairly horrid titles, botched reboot attempts, and sub-par production values in some otherwise solid titles, I was quite pleased with what the industry had to offer.

I didn’t play as many MMOs in 2010 as I did in the years prior. I quit Eve Online. I finally said goodbye to World of Warcrft, despite a stellar new expansion (I was in the beta). I started dabbling into LOTRO and realized it was a completionist’s wet-dream, and I have been having a blast on my novice Elf Hunter (yes, I know that race/class combo is real original). I tried out Perpetuum and was turned off by how similar it was to Eve Online in terms of systems, UI and looks, and how much it paled in comparison in actual execution. I also tried my hands at World of Tanks, a game that really took a lot to get used to, and so far it hasn’t been entirely disappointing. SynCaine’s ramblings finally made me cave in to Darkfall and I have been getting my ass kicked ever since. But all things considered, I spent the least amount of time with MMOs in 2010, especially when you contrast that against 2-6 hour daily sessions with World of Warcraft and EvE Online in prior years.

At any rate, the following are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 2

What a stellar experience this game was. I found myself thinking of the game weeks after I finished it, always intrigued by what could have happened if I had played a particular fight with another set of allies using different tactics. Mass Effect 2, of all the games I have played in 2010, had the most powerful ending I have experienced in a video game, despite a terrible “final boss” fight and holes in the story regarding the final set pieces. Mass Effect 2 gave me goosebumps, and I am ever thankful to BioWare for making such a fantastic title. It speaks volume for a title that has quite a few flaws, but those flaws completely pale in comparison to the rest of the package.

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Starcraft II

This game is the primary reason my MMO habits suffered so greatly in 2010. (The other reason being a lack of interesting MMOs to play in 2010 – just my opinion, disagree all you want). Twelve years in the making, this title had the kind of hype that eventually leads to inflated expectations, which, inevitably deflate with rancid disappointment because no title can live up to such high hopes. Starcraft 2, however, shocked fans and critics alike when it launched, not only meeting, but in some cases exceeding expectations. Couple this with the fact that the title shipped with no LAN support despite resounding disagreement from the core fan base, and that this is only a third of a trilogy that will be released over several years, and still the title did so well both commercially and critically. The single player campaign was phenomenal, and there was a hardly a mission where I felt like I was playing an RTS. It was immersive, innovative, the missions were varied and featured a plethora of objectives for you to accomplish and the production values were incredible. It took me nearly 40 hours to get through the single-player portion of the game. But the multiplayer is where I find myself losing hours on a daily basis: 386 hours to be exact (that’s over 16 days in real-time – sheesh!). I love the 1v1 match-ups and a friend and I have been tearing through the 2v2 rankings for several weeks now. This is a game I will be surely playing well into 2010.

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Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Talking about completionists’ wet-dreams, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hit the (digital) shelves in November. I have already shared my thoughts on the title, so I will spare you the re-iteration, but suffice it to say AC:B was hours upon hours of fun, featuring huge improvements over the previous titles, and kept me happily occupied for days.

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Split/Second

A racing game? Yes, I was surprised as well. A colleague at work first recommended this title and then demanded that I play it. I have never been a big racing sim fan, so I was a little skeptic. But then I lost a bet the following week to the same colleague and my “punishment” was playing this title. God I wish all punishments could be like this. Expecting a racing sim with questionable production values and a botched, convoluted “career mode”, I was completely blown away (pun-intended) by what I saw. One of the most satisfying games I have ever played, Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show in the ‘near future’, where drivers compete on tracks laden with explosives and traps. These obstacles can be triggered by any of the drivers as long as they have power, which is earned through air time, drafting and drifting. There was no major car customization, no excessively ‘real-time’ mode, just the directional pad, an accelerator, a brake and two buttons for small and large explosions respectively. It is deceptively simple and shockingly involved and deep. You can win/lose in the final few moments, and the music is so well done, it actually gets your adrenaline pumping for those final precious few seconds of a hard-fought race. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and look on YouTube for some of the soundtrack.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

My love-hate relationship with WoW continued to grow/dwindle in 2010, but finally fizzled out towards the end. Despite the fact that I am no longer playing it, I had a lot of fun playing WoW casually in 2010. I learned what it was like not to raid for 4 hours a night, 4-5 days a week. I learned the fun in creating and pursuing your own little goals, such as going after a particularly elusive reputation, or earning the Chef’s Hat. I ran heroics with strangers and 10-mans with old friends and guildies, and I had a blast. I was also in the Cataclysm Beta from quite early on and played it for nearly three months. I experienced most of the new content and enough of the revamped world to know what Cataclysm had to offer. Eventually I realized it wasn’t enough to keep me around, but I had a great time nonetheless. And who knows, maybe I will find a reason to go back at some point in the future.

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Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap hit gold with this title. This game seems so simple on the surface, but as the levels progress and the various types of zombies and plants unlock, it turns into one of the most complex, strategic and exhilirating titles I have had the pleasure of playing in recent memory. I was initially skeptic of the title, Bejeweled and Peggle (the other smash hits from the developer) aren’t exactly what you would call my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I played the game and realized what an incredible experience it was. Not that the title needed any additional critical acclaim, but it has now been immortalized in WoW as a series of quests in the Hillsbrad Foothils starting with Brazie the Botanist.

Mafia II

And finally, we have the crime drama. The game didn’t get very high reviews from most gaming authorities, getting an average rating around the mid-70s. I am not disagreeing, I don’t think it was as good as it could have been. But the original Mafia, a game I played start to end three times, holds a special place in my heart. And even though the characters didn’t have much cross-over between the two games, I loved every minute of Mafia II, even the abysmal driving controls and the long rides between mission points. Mafia II didn’t live up to its predecessor, but it was a hell of a ride, and I am glad for it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro 2033: Great game, supremely atmospheric. Horrendous AI that breaks the game in my opinion.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Excellent single-player campaign, especially when juxtaposed against MoH. Awful PC multiplayer ruined my experience.
  • Borderlands: Released in 2009, I kn0w, played it well into 2010, lots of good DLC content, had a blast.
  • Darkfall: SynCaine was right, it is difficult to go back to WoW after experiencing Darkfall in all it’s brutal, unforgiving glory, still learning, still trying to wrap my head around it.
  • Machinarium: Actually can I have eight favorites of 2010? Yes, it’s that good.

Review (Single-Player): “Tier 1 vs. Black Ops” or “Shooters and Other Disappointments”

November 15, 2010 2 comments

I finished both Medal of Honor and Call of Duty: Black Ops recently. It didn’t take long for me to accomplish both goals, since each game is only about 5-7 hours. MoH is probably a bit shorter than Call of Duty.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy both games. I did, and they had their own strengths and weaknesses, but throughout Medal of Honor I couldn’t keep this one nagging thought at the back of my mind: “This is a very subtle Modern Warfare ripoff.”

Tier 1

Medal of Honor has some very cool, action-packed moments. I particularly liked the siege when the team is in a house next to a mountain with droves of Taliban pouring in from all sides and no hope for help or rescue. That was an intense setting. I normally play FPS games on the “Nightmare” setting, so that mission turned out to be especially brutal. But what stood out for me was the level of intensity the developers were able to capture and the grit soldiers in the field must exhibit to get through a day.

That being said, the adrenaline that mission brought about was more of an exception than the norm. There were AI pathing issues, and the AI, in some cases, was simply too dumb to spot me walking around their camp in plain sight. The scripted events were structured in a way that hindered the realism when you did anything outside of what you were supposed to do.

For example, in one Taliban camp, I saw an enemy unit with his back to me, naturally I sneaked up and stabbed him in the back. He stood there, unblinking, still oblivious to my presence, still alive. I tried again, once again my knife went into his back, there was a ripping noise, and yet the unit stood there, his back to me, enjoying the scenery. It was then that I realized that my AI partner had been talking to me the whole time about silently taking out the guy himself. He then walked up to the enemy, grabbed him from behind, startling the previously oblivious bastard, and finished him off. That was a huge turn-off. Scripted events are cool, but at no point should they be so unpolished that they break basic game mechanics, such as you stabbing a seemingly invulnerable-and-downright-indifferent-to-your-presence enemy unit.

There were other issues. One of the things I have enjoyed about the Modern Warfare series is the ability to see the battle play out from multiple viewpoints, without getting lost in the narrative. While Medal of Honor also tries the same novel idea (I wonder where they got it from!), very often I was a little confused as to which character in the story am I controlling now. Rabbit, Hawk, Deuce, Dante, or someone altogether new, mostly I just fired my gun and moved on.

Between the rescues, the rescuing of the rescuers, and the survival missions, I often found myself a little lost with the narrative (not in the narrative, but with the narrative). I wasn’t sure what the story was, except one long series of disjointed missions to destroy the Taliban, and by the end of it, we didn’t really get anywhere at all. Perhaps that was because much like the war, no mission in the campaign clearly identified the goal of the whole affair.

I’d give it a 6 out of 10, mostly because the concept was cool, and the idea was somewhat innovative, but in the execution they xeroxed too many pages from the Modern Warfare doctrine, and ended up with a half-baked game filled with glitches and other disappointments.

Black Ops

The Call of Duty franchise released its seventh game shortly after Medal of Honor and to resounding success. Let us briefly compare the two in terms of chronological releases:

Call of Duty

  • Call of Duty
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Call of Duty 3
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Call of Duty: World at War
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops

Medal of Honor

  • PC releases
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – Spearhead
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – Breakthrough
    Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault)
    Medal of Honor: Airborne
    Medal of Honor
  • Console releases
    Medal of Honor
    Medal of Honor: Underground
    Medal of Honor: Frontline
    Medal of Honor: Rising Sun
    Medal of Honor: European Assault
    Medal of Honor: Vanguard
    Medal of Honor: Airborne
    Medal of Honor: Heroes 2
    Medal of Honor
  • Portable releases
    Medal of Honor: Underground
    Medal of Honor: Infiltrator
    Medal of Honor: Heroes
    Medal of Honor: Heroes 2

Notice anything? Call of Duty took three games for the developers to realize that they needed to breathe some fresh air into the franchise, and thus came about Modern Warfare, one of the most innovative and novel tactical shooters in recent memory.

Look at how many games it took for Medal of Honor.

Beyond that, the latest installment of the Call of Duty franchise reinvents itself yet again, dumping you smack-dab in the middle of the cold war, the Vietnam crisis and an international conspiracy spanning multiple continents. The story was shockingly solid, with a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, and I am normally very good about that sort of thing.

On top of all that, it is a solid shooter, one that doesn’t just focus on what might be cool to play or see in the game, but genuinely focuses on what will be fun. From an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro to surviving a brutal gulag, from blowing up a soviet rocket to fighting in the trenches of Vietnam, and from flying a B2-Bomber to hunting down psychos in secret hideouts, this game had it all, and it brought it all together in style.

This isn’t to say the game didn’t have any issues. There were a few graphical glitches, and the game wasn’t balanced in terms of difficulty. You either blew through anything in your path, or you got your ass handed to you, forcing you to reload and play that sequence again and again. (Yes, I played on the toughest difficulty setting again). There was simply no middle ground.

The voice acting, while otherwise top-notch, sucked because of goddamn Sam Worthington. You may have seen him as the titular hero in Avatar and the first humanoid machine in Terminator 4: Rise of the Machines. He’s Australian you see. And regardless of which role he undertakes, he cannot, for the life of him, mask his Australian undertone. That kind of ruined it for me, but I suppose you can’t have it all.

I’d give Black Ops a resounding 9 out of 10. It is a brilliant game, with an original story, and intense action. Well worth your money if you are a shooter fan.

“Why Medal of Honor is Unrealistic?” or “Headshotting the Noob”

November 5, 2010 1 comment

I am not an American. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize the brave men and women who fight for their liberties and countrymen against an enemy so entrenched in the ancient ways of warfare, no civilization has ever been able to subdue them. The War on Terror is a messy, horrid affair. It is bloody, there are casualties and ultimate sacrifices are made on a daily basis.

When I picked up Medal of Honor, and perused through the marketing lingo with such bold catch phrases as “realistic military shooter” and “play today’s war firsthand”, I was intrigued. The original Medal of Honor landed you, in Saving Private Ryan style, on the beaches of Normandy. It was a terrifying affair, and one that permanently imprints you with the utmost sense of respect for the insanity, the violence and the sacrifices the Greatest Generation had to go through to topple the Third Reich. My expectations, understandably, were quite high for this latest installment.

Instead I got a bunch of bearded jocks who trash talked their foes, fought an unrelenting enemy without so much as breaking a sweat, walked around in plain sight without getting spotted, reigned death upon their adversaries while jamming to heavy metal, and proclaimed themselves the “not the hammer, but the razor edge that will decide the war”.

The troops that stormed the beach on D-Day seemed like a band of brothers, patriots till the end, fighting for what’s right. This new game made those respectable soldiers seem like a bunch of dicks who got some new cool toys to play with and they genuinely took pleasure in wiping out the enemy. My point is that the new installment, in its pursuit to be a cool,  “trendy” military shooter, instead came off as a lame attempt at capturing the war through Michael Bay’s lens with an equally abysmal cast of forgettable and fake characters.

The reboot sucked, and the final nail in the coffin, in all likelihood, will be in three days, when Call of Duty: Black Ops launches, and headshots MoH like the fucking noob it is.

BOOM! Headshot: “Crysis 2 Beta” or “Space, Soldiers and The Mafia”

June 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Here is a hodgepodge of information I came across this week regarding some of the shooters I am most interested in.

All that is cover is as follows; you can find additional details on each bullet point below:

  • Crysis 2 Beta Access
  • Star Wars: The Force Unlesahed II Piles On the Pretty
  • Mafia II ‘Made Man’ Trailer
  • Dead Space 2 Trailers are Disgusting
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Remix Trailer Capitalizes on Eminem
  • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Screenshots Are Nothing New To Look At
  • I Am Alive Trailer Attempts To Defy Irony, Fails Miserably

Crysis 2 Beta Access

Go here. Hurry.

Nomad fighting his way to the Crysis 2 beta! I know that's a lame joke. It's late. Leave me alone.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Gameplay Footage

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t frothing at the mouth after watching last week’s trailer for Star Wars: The Force Unlea – OK, that is too long a title, we will call it SW: TFU2 from now on. There was a also a very small (think: gameplay trailer equivalent of ‘The Truth’ video segments in Assassin’s Creed 2) gameplay video that shows what the final product may look like. In 33 seconds, you see the protagonist rip through the battalions of Storm Troopers with all the skill and grace we have come to expect from him in the first game.

And that may precisely be the problem with the second game, it feels too much like the first game, except with slightly improved graphics. For die hard fans looking for additional avenues to explore Skarkiller’s journey and be an all-round bad-ass, this may be the perfect setup. For a lot of others, we may see a similar backlash when Left 4 Dead 2 was revealed.

Several screenshots also accompanied the gameplay trailer, and they can be viewed below. I particularly like the giant spider bot, one of which Starkiller ripped apart in the spectacular trailer.

Mafia II ‘Made Man’ Trailer

Meet Vito Scaletta. Sicilian. Soldier. War hero. Family Man. This is a story about his fall from grace, and his rise to power in the Empire Bar crime syndicate. I think I am one of very few people who played the original Mafia from start to finish, completed the game, and craved more. That was 2002. Eight long years later, I will be awarded my wish.

Dead Space 2 Trailers are Disgusting

Fair warning: the first of the two trailers below is fairly average, showing Isaac Clarke battling it out against multiple necromorphed antagonists in. But the second trailer got to me. It is gut-wrenching, vile and downright disgusting. Watch at your own risk.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Remix Trailer Capitalizes on Eminem

When they released the launch trailer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Eminem’s ‘Till I Collapse’ shot up to the most sold song on the iTunes store, despite being, well, ancient. It seems Activision is going to milk this formula for all that it has got. They took the last trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops, Eminem’s ‘Won’t Back Down’, put them in a blender and the result is this trailer below:

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Screenshots Are Nothing New To Look At

The new screenshots released by Ubisoft aren’t anything special if you have already seen the gameplay footage for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier from E3 2010. If you have, skip to the I Am Alive trailer at the end. If you have no, they maybe worth a look.

The game looks great, although some might call the cloaking technology a direct rip-off from Crysis. Not that Crysis nanotechnology was a revolutionary novel concept, but GRFS features futuristic soldiers equipped with advanced gardware and armaments, including the ability to effectively turn invisible to the naked eye. Nomad is probably suing Ghost recon as we speak.

I am anxious to see how the game plays out overall.The new tactical display which identifies the tangos on-screen looks slick, as well as the holographic overlay which displays important information about your target, in a seemingly intelligent manner. Couple that with the ability to turn invisible at will, and you have the makings of a true Ghost Recon sequel. I do wonder, however, if the aforementioned perks will make the game too easy. But if the gameplay from E3 2010 is any indication, if you get into the thick of things, invisibility or no invisibility, you bleed just like everyone else.

I guess we’ll wait and see!

I Am Alive Trailer Attempts To Defy Irony, Fails Miserably

I Am Alive trailer proved that I Am Alive is, in fact, alive. *facepalm*