I’m Part of the Problem

Every now and then, a treasured developer will produce a game so dissimilar to their previous work that fans will begin to rage. They’ll lament the good old days and chat about how said developer has lost their way. What happened to the tight level design? Where are the classic monsters? Why does this game feel so different?

Id Software’s “Rage” is such a title. Playing almost nothing like their previous games, “Rage” feels very awkward to a longtime Id fan. Why would you even bother with this title, outside of the developer’s legacy? After playing through the game, I can’t answer that question.

Still, I can’t help but think I’m a part of the game industry’s biggest problem; creative stagnation. Id Software tried their damnedest to create a brand new IP and I hate the game. Hell, even when they took “Doom 3” in a different direction than the classic games, I was first in line to bitch and moan.

“Rage” definitely isn’t a shining example of game design, but it’s not poorly made. When the characters finally shut-up and you’re thrown into a dungeon, it plays like a better version of “Fallout 3.” The guns have great weight and the graphics completely sell the putrid creatures and their agility. It can be really tense.

In the same instance, though, nothing about the game is original and most of the ideas are half-baked. The upgrade system shouldn’t even exist with how few options are available, the car combat side missions feel like half of a game (or early PS1 era cash grabs) and the weapon crafting is entirely pointless when you can just buy everything.

“Rage” is mind blowing if you haven’t played a single game this generation. If you have, you’ll just keep thinking about “Borderlands,” “Fallout 3” and “Call of Duty.” It’s sad when even in a brand new game, I can’t escape thoughts of everything else.

I can’t even tell which Call of Duty this is…..

At the same time, because I made those previous games successful, I’m partly responsible for “Rage” being an amalgamation of features from other shooters. I can’t imagine playing a classic style game in the modern era, even though I’d probably enjoy it to some degree.

Still, when new IPs are released, I’m the one responsible for sequels never happening. I’m the guy that craps all over “new” ideas and stops developers from taking chances. I dictate to them that Call of Duty and Battlefield are the only way shooters should be, so why even try something new?

To that degree, I also disliked “Sonic 4.” I’m not one of those people who abhor the physics, though. I was more in the camp that the level design wasn’t adequate and that the boss encounters lacked originality. Since I love classic Sonic, though, what else was Sega supposed to make? How do they make me happy?

I’m also the same person that is lambasting Square-Enix for “Final Fantasy XIII.” I can’t stand the auto-battle system or how streamlined combat is. The linear level paths for an RPG do nothing for me and the absurd story just brings my piss to a boil. How else is Square-Enix supposed to innovate, though?

If I could embrace “Rage” as an actual beacon of creativity, then maybe we’d be a better and more realized sequel. Maybe Id Software could expend more time in designing new mechanics or fleshing out the groundwork laid down with the first title.

If I treated “Final Fantasy XIII” with more respect, maybe Square-Enix would finally give us that “Final Fantasy VII” remake or another title in the classic, 16-bit style (excluding the FFIV pseudo-sequel).

Since I don’t allow developers to try anything new, I fear that the next generation of consoles will just keep producing the same garbage over and over. I keep buying awful sequels in hopes that some of the original joy will be contained; I almost never leave happy.

Even this looks like Call of Duty….

So my only conclusion is that I am a part of the problem. I’ll do my best to embrace the indie game scene, but I don’t see how I’ll be helping triple A title’s become more diverse in the future.

Indie DLC = Old School DLC

I’m not sure if I’m too old school, but all of this recent DLC is starting to wear me thin. Every time I see a new game come out, I immediately think, “Might as well wait for the GOTY/Ultimate edition!” A few of my friends have been playing Forza 4, but I refuse to buy it and see that “complete” version a week later.

This past week, though, I recently bought two packs of DLC. Two of my favorite games from last year, “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse,” released full scale expansions. Both include gameplay that is roughly half the length of their main campaigns and feature other cool, optional extras. How the hell could I pass that up?

This is the kind of stuff I gladly paid for back in the late-90’s, early 2000’s. Every time a game I loved had an expansion, I was all over it. The Quake series has some great examples of long campaigns with expansions that increased the length two-fold.

Even “Battlefield 1942” gave us discs that were more than simply map-packs (even if Road to Rome was a glorified one). I miss those days were my extra content wasn’t some gimped experience with a $10 price tag.

You can make the counter-argument that most of the expansions from the past were $30 where as DLC is significantly cheaper, but then I’ll ask you to show me an example of DLC that wasn’t free in the past. “Call of Duty’s” DLC is some of the worst, but it’s actually not that the value of the maps are in question.

No, what makes it suck is how Epic Games has never charged for a single “Bonus Pack” in the “Unreal Tournament” series and each pack included about 8-9 maps. Think about that. “Call of Duty” expects an extra $60 for a total of 20 maps when Epic gave away nearly double that for free on each game.


Entirely free and it was on PS3! What gives?!

I also take particular offense on “Free-To-Play” games that charge you a dollar for weapons and skins. I do understand that they need some kind of money, but I’m really struggling to figure out why there are count-down timers and cool-down periods for things you buy with actual cash. I remember the days where extra skins were unlockable and even fan made!

Not every modern developer is milking DLC for all it’s worth, though. Rockstar Games did wonderful things with the expansions to “Grand Theft Auto IV.” While the two episodes weren’t as full length as Vice City or San Andreas, neither one was a slouch in replay value or story content.

I know this will lead into the debate about how length of content shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but I’m getting sick of paying what is now a premium DLC price for content that shouldn’t even have a price tag. Developers are losing a lot of faith with their userbases and I think changing DLC policies to something more old school would be the way to fix things.

I know Activision will never listen to reason, but why not give away some maps from time to time. If you want people to play your stupid and shoehorned multiplayer modes, give them a reason that isn’t attached to their wallets.

If you want people to experience more single-player content, make it justifiable for them to drop money. Provide either another complete campaign, or give us short experiences loaded with extra content and easter eggs to discover.

It’s just strangely telling how I refuse to purchase DLC for big budget titles, yet I immediately (and without question) bought the expansions to two indie games. Maybe if EA or Ubisoft didn’t make such awful add-ons, I wouldn’t have problems like this.

I know DLC is here to stay and that my voice probably isn’t going to do anything, but I just lament the passing of the old days. Games may not have been better values back then and I fondly remember spending upwards of $70 for N64 cartridges, but DLC is just getting out of control.

Until I get something akin to “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse’s” expansions in the future, I’m just not going to be buying much in the way of DLC.

First Impressions – Guitar Hero 5

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With every month, Activision seems to be releasing a new Guitar Hero game. In rolls September and Activision has put out the next numbered sequel in their series, Guitar Hero 5. Today I’ll be giving my first impressions of the game and giving g1’s some advice as to whether they think their dollars are best spent on this new title.

Starting off, Guitar Hero 5 has heavily touted a new “Party Mode” all over the internet. This mode supposedly allowed you to use 4 instruments of the same or differing types to play all at once and even change difficulty on the fly and drop out whenever. The mode works just like that, even if it is a little misleading.

See, instead of having an option in the main menu that says “Party,” Activision put a button on the bottom of the screen that says it. So for the first 5 minutes, my friends and I were looking around for this fabled party mode. Once we figured it out, a song almost immediately launched and we found ourselves confused again.

The game gives absolutely no instructions on how to use the actual mode, so we scanned the bottom and top of the screen to figure out just exactly what was going on. We saw a yellow button for joining, so we were able to get 3 guitars going in seconds. The game automatically scrolled the screens and kept the song moving without any hindrance in framerate or even button presses.

Choosing a setlist requires one person to press start and pick “New Playlist.” You also press start to change your difficulty or instrument from Guitar/Bass (since you can’t switch from Drums to Guitar without first unplugging your controller). The menu also lets you drop out, or you can just walk away and let the game do it for you. Once you figure this all out, Party Mode is exactly what Activision said it would be. It works flawlessly and songs load at the end of the previous one, so you never have to wait around with pesky load screens. Once your list finishes, another random song starts and you can just keep playing or quit.

So as flawless as that mode is, the new career mode is definitely something special. While it may not be completely different (i.e. it’s the same thing) from Rock Band 2’s “Challenges,” having some kind of requirement to meet during a song is definitely a fun way to pass time. The only downside to this mode is that you cannot use 4 of the same instrument like in party mode.

Some of the challenges actually require a full band. Things range from “Complete a Song with X Score” to “Have Bass/Guitar perform X Hammer-On’s and Pull-off’s in X Song.” The challenges are definitely well thought out and help provide challenge to expert Guitar Hero players.

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Along with revamping the career mode comes some new character options. While I didn’t tinker with the creation tool, Guitar Hero 5 allows you to use your avatar (on 360 only) as a character. It definitely looks funky with how realistic the graphics are trying to be, but it’s also pretty funny to see your midget of a person strut around on stage.

As for the game’s actual setlist, there are definitely some amazing songs, but most of the list fails. There is a lot of modern and emo music, so if you are not into that, just skip this game. You can import songs from World Tour, but for some reason you are only allowed 35 of them. Your DLC from World Tour will work, but you just need to download a free update, which isn’t bad. That 35 song thing really kills any interest you may have in wanting to import, though.

There really aren’t any new features other than a “Band Moment” mode, but that simply works like Rock Band’s “Band Multiplier.” It works like flames over notes and just ups your points if you hit them. It’s nothing fancy, but it certainly helps in scoring well over 1 million points on some stupidly short songs.

In the end, my first impression of Guitar Hero 5 was generally positive. I may not particularly enjoy the graphics or really find anything innovative with the game, but the revamped career and the ability to play with 4 of your favorite instrument make the game more accessible. And hell, if you suck at drums, now you can just forget them entirely.

I’d say to give this game a shot if you are still interested in rhythm games or are a newbie to the whole fad. If you really have given up hope, this probably will not change your mind, but it never hurts to try.

My Summer – Day 1: Prototype

After not having written a blog in 3 months, I’ve come back with A VENGEANCE! For the next week, I will be doing daily write-ups on all of the games I played this summer. I will double up on a few days for games I played that had sequels (which I also played).

While you may think these are reviews, I am trying to put my opinion on the matter while also pointing out flaws and general praises that I have for a game. I will not be dolling out scores, or even sectioning off my texts into topics.

Without any further delay, I present to you, Prototype.

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Ah Prototype, a game that received a lot of controversy for being similar to a certain PS3 title (and a coming overview from me in a few days). While not the best game in its genre (Open World Adventure), Prototype is certainly a thrilling experience from beginning to end.

The game starts off with a rather amazing looking cutscene that tries it’s best to rip-off every Quentin Tarantino movie ever made. You start the game off at the end of the story and your character, Alex Mercer, works his way backwards. Not only that, but you play a part that chronologically takes place almost at the end of your adventure.

This shows off some of the impressive abilities you (eventually) have at your disposal. Things like blades growing out of your arms, tentacles that destroy everything they touch; even massive Hulk like arms. This is all exhilarating and you really get a sense that you are a WMD. Not only that, but you are unleashed into Times Square with a pretty accurate representation.

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Just one of your many abilities at work!

After you complete this part, you are thrust into the main plotline. While you don’t know anything about your character, the story does little to shed light on the cause at the moment. All you kind of get is that Alex is wanted DOA, so you need to work fast to thwart your enemies.

Missions are what propel you through this game and they certainly are fun, at first. While everything is a bit generic, the game gives you a large quantity of experience points to upgrade your character. Doing 1 mission early in the game pretty much guarantees you 2-3 upgrades each time. You even get the ability to copy an individuals image so you can cloak in the crowd; Sweet.

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ROSA! GIVE ME YOUR PEE!

When you slowly begin to build back your abilities, you learn some neat tricks. Alex has super speed, a devastating last stand attack and even the ability to glide in the air. This harkens back to Spider-man 2 with its amazing webslinging. Running through the city is definitely fun for a bit, but just trying to build your speed and jumping distance make traveling fast a simple act.

After about 2 hours in, though, Prototype takes a massive turn for the worst. The graphics were never astounding (even with the first cutscene being ridiculously good), but they really show a lot of pop-in and repetition in building design. You run down the streets of NYC and feel like you entered a perpetual warp zone. Not only that, you should have a few upgrades for your speed, which makes the pop-in even worse then you jump for a building that doesn’t exist yet.

Not only that, Alex is definitely an extremely generic dude. While the story started off vague, it never clears anything up. There is an answer to why Alex is such a beast, but it feels like a cop-out and, to a lesser extent, a copy of Bourne Identity. Alex also just acts pissed off because he can. Are the police getting on your nerves? “I F*#@ING HATE THEM! HULK SMASH!”

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I smolder with generic rage!

The enemy A.I. is also some of the worst of any open-world game I’ve recently played. Instead of trying to balance the difficulty by, say, making the enemies use cover tactics or any type of actual warfare, Prototype just throws horde after horde of beasts in your direction. You eventually get to a point in the story where you fail until you upgrade your health or run around like a fool.

Not only is the generic enemy A.I. bad, but the bosses are even stupider. I know boss battles in the past have had patterns, but the Prototype bosses rarely move. They just sit there sprouting out insults and using the same attack over and over. Once you get past the horde of 16 million generic enemies bum rushing you, the boss gets a cheap shot and you have to repeat the process. This gets extremely trying on your nerves and I almost gave up at a few points. I’m sure Easy difficulty could have alleviated this problem, but who wants to play a game on Easy?

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These guys will definitely piss you off.

These problems wouldn’t be so bad to me if the game just varied its design more. In addition to the main quests, you have short activities that are supposed to use your powers for objectives. The only thing that stands out is a Gliding mini-game where you have Alex time his jumps to reach a small circle about 5 city blocks away (and one in the middle of a lake). It really sticks out in the otherwise generic objectives that are thrown at you in every other mission.

The other minigames consist of Speed Trials and Killing (even if you kill with the cause being A) Time Limit, B) Amount or C) With an Ability). These are overly difficult at times and at others are too simple. There is no real balance between what you should be able to do with patience and what you just cannot do at all.

I have to say, though, that I did enjoy the initial game I played. If Activision put a lot more time polishing the things like Story, Graphics and Variety, I may have been inclined to sit here and tell you that Prototype is an amazing game. I do recommend it to people who like their combat bloody and hardcore, but if you have been burnt out on Open-World games recently, you are better off skipping this and picking up a certain clone (inFamous).

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MOAR CLAW!