Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WAA - 3 on 3 NHL Arcade

Wow, posting is slow these days. Work is keeping me crazy busy. Expect a burst of posts once things settle down on that front. For now, enjoy a little WAA courtesy of EA's shockingly crappy NHL Arcade title.

The "One With Combat"Award: "Race to Victory"
Win a game by being the first to score 15 goals. I'll put it blunty...this game is STUPID easy. The cpu's defense is okay, but their offense is abysmal. You'll have little trouble winning a game.

The "Mile High Club" Award: "Super Speed"
By checking opponents, you can make power-ups appear on the ice. There's an Achievement for scoring two goals under the effects of each boost. Most of them are pretty useful, but I found Super Speed to be decidedly unhelpful in scoring goals because your player is largely out of control. Still, this is far from what I'd call "difficult".

The "Seriously..." Award: "Let's Play"
No grinding in this super-easy game, but finding someone online who's playing at the same time as you could have you waiting for a while.

The "Little Rocket Man" Award: "Over and Out"
The true purpose of hockey - to check an unwitting opponent right over the boards!

The Scientist Gone Gamer Award: "Trickster"
Score a goal with a trick shot and score this picture of a top hat with magic(?) coming out...get it?

Achievement Set Rating - 3
Well, the game is dumb, shallow, and piss-easy so there really aren't a lot of possibilities for potential Achievements. With that in mind, I guess they covered their bases. That still doesn't excuse the lame icons though.

Achievement Difficulty Rating - 1
If you can find someone to play a game with you online (you don't even have to win), then this is a couple hour's worth of effort tops.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

WAA - Thrillville: Off the Rails

It's Wednesday, and that means WAA! This week's title is Thrillville: Off the Rails.


The "One With Combat"Award: "Coaster Boaster"
Design your first roller coaster. The tutorial essentially leads you through this process, so you'll get this one very early.

The "Mile High Club" Award: "Lunar Lunatic"
You need to beat the arcade game Event Horizon 2 on Hard. It's like the NES classic Gradius, but on crack. I have no advice beyond developing the reaction time of a mongoose.

The "Seriously..." Award: "Karting Krazy"
Actually, none of the Achievements require much grinding in this game (though some are pretty difficult). Winning 20 Go-Kart races will take a little while, though you can make it go faster by designing a short circular track.

The "Little Rocket Man" Award: "Putt Putt Power"
My favorite part of the game was designing mini-golf courses and trying them out, so this was a natural fit.

The Scientist Gone Gamer Award: "Flippin' Great"
A solid set of varied icons...this one is for landing a 720 backflip on the arcade game Stunt Rider.

Achievement Set Rating - 7
Thrillville, with it's varied play mechanics and sandbox world, is well suited for Achievements and this set doesn't disappoint. You'll need to sample a little of everything to get them all, and the difficulty is nicely varied between easy awards and more challenging ones. My only real complaint is some unnecessary multiplayer awards for what really should be a single player game.

Achievement Difficulty Rating - 3
If you insist on getting them all, then you'll likely disagree due to a couple nasty ones. But the majority of the set (say 900 points or so), can be had in a long weekend.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Need for Speed: Undercover

I decided there wasn't enough stress and frustration in my life, so I resolved to pick up a racing game through Gamefly. After perusing the titles, I realized that I had never tried any of the games in the Need for Speed series. I've heard some positive comments, so I picked up NFS: Undercover.

Up front, I should say that I have a love hate relationship with racing games. I'm not a big "car" guy...if it gets me where I want to go reliably that's good enough for me. But games based on cars can be entertaining as long as they aren't too insanely difficult.

Undercover was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise on that count. I found that early races were heavily stacked in favor of the player, allowing me to enjoy the game with less frustration than most racing games. Obviously the difficulty curve trends upwards over time, but that's countered by (a) your improving skills and (b) the fact that early wins allow you to build up cash to get improved cars and parts. As long as you don't squander your money foolishly in the early stages, you'll be well equipped to handle the tougher races at the end.

Undercover is built a bit like a sandbox game, though that's deceiving. You can drive around the city freely, but the only things you can find are races (which you can warp to using your map) and trouble in the form of cops. There aren't any random encounters that I've noticed, so there isn't much reason not to just avoid the police and go straight to your next event.

Events come in a number of forms. There are races of different kinds, like circuit races (laps around a specific track), sprints (point-to-point), and checkpoint events (like racing games in an arcade, where you need to cross arbitrary points before time runs out). There are also highway battles, which are presented in first person (or Bumper View as I like to call it), where you have to weave through traffic on the interstate and put enough distance between you and an opponent. Finally, there are a number of events in which you have to go up against law enforcement, either by wrecking police cars, causing damage, or just escaping pursuit.

Interestingly, the police pursuits are my favorite events because they are handled really realistically. You can hear the police chatter over your radio, and it is unbelievable how authentic they sound. The cops mention specific streets you're using, whether they've seen you or lost you, if a roadblock is set up ahead (you can use this info to avoid them), and any action you take on the road. "Look out! He just hit a civilian car...this guy is dangerous!"

The game also features an overarching plot, though it's pretty retarded. Apparently a gang of road racing thieves have stolen some important evidence implicating several major crime bosses. The FBI's plan is for you to infiltrate the underground race scene, cause about a million dollars worth of property damage, and hopefully impress the specific gang you're tracking so they'll approach you and implicate themselves. It's dumb, dumb, dumb...but I guess it's adequate at tying the various races together. The plot plays out in brief cutscenes with real actors, though they seem like they're all trying to out-ham each other.

Fair warning: there's a lot of racial stereotyping here, and the few women in the game aren't portrayed terribly well either. If that kind of thing bothers you, this is a definite stay-away.

In any case, NFS is a solid enough game to make me consider renting other games in the series. I can only take so much racing at a time, but if you're a bigger fan of the genre than me, you might dig it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A little corruption just for Rachel...

Hey, if one of my followers wants a little digital nudity, who am I to argue?

Enjoy! And for a little context, check here!

WAA - Mass Effect

It's Wednesday, and that means WAA! This week's title: Mass Effect.

The "One With Combat"Award: "Assault Rifle Expert"
This Achievement is awarded for killing 150 enemies with an assault rifle. That sounds like a lot but there's a ton of combat in this game and assault rifles are one of the best options for mowing through them.

The "Mile High Club" Award: "Medal of Valor"
You need to beat the game on the Insanity difficulty setting to score this award. The biggest frustration here is how utterly useless your squadmates will be at this difficulty level. They never defeat enemies themselves, they steal the best cover routinely, and they'll usually be face down on the floor in any fight bigger than a mild skirmish. The good news is that there's no penalty for their repeated deaths, as they instantly revive when the enemies are defeated.

The "Seriously..." Award: "Extreme Power Gamer"
Honestly, the entire Achievement set is one giant grind. This one is the worst because it takes multiple playthroughs with one character to have any chance at getting to level 60.

The "Little Rocket Man" Award: "Paramour"
Some ignorant buffoons stirred up a bunch of controversy by claiming that Mass Effect is chock-full of sex and nudity, insinuating that the whole game is part of an elaborate plan to poison the minds of children. Try to hide your disappointment when you discover that those sex/nudity rumors are mostly false. Although it is possible to form a quasi-lesbian relationship with an alien, so at least that’s something…

The Scientist Gone Gamer Award: "Distinguished Combat Medal"
All the icons are designed to look like military-style medals. If I were a space marine, I'd want this one on my lapel.

Achievement Set Rating - 5
The Achievement set itself is pretty poor, with too many awards devoted to using X ability Y times (where Y is some unreasonably high number). Additionally, the requirement to play through the game a minimum of three times just to get them all is seriously overboard. On the other hand, the Achievements unlock gamerpics and in-game rewards (like bonus abilities for your characters), which is a huge step in the right direction.

Achievement Difficulty Rating - 5
Mass Effect really isn't a difficult game, and none of the Achievements are that challenging. But as I've already referenced, completing the set is a quite an undertaking due to the time investment (60 hours minimum) which makes it less than ideal for people looking to grab some quick points.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Boosting some sports titles

My posting rate has been embarrassing lately thanks to a spike in my current work load. Oh well, no way to fix that but bang out a few posts now and then!

EA recently announced that they will be shutting down the online servers for a few of their older titles in February. This triggered a flurry of activity from the Achievement community, because once the servers are down it will be impossible to get multiplayer awards for those games. Ironically, that makes now one of the best times to get the multiplayer Achievements since so many players are trying to wrap them up.

Sidenote: some people piss and moan when companies like EA and Sega shut down servers on old games. I do wish these companies would shift to a different business model for their sports titles (I'll probably post about this some time), but I don't blame them a bit for killing servers for games that nobody plays. I was playing Facebreaker online with an Achievement buddy for about two hours, and in that time we saw one other person online. How long should EA keep those servers running (which costs them money) while at the same time they're laying off employees?

Anyway, none of the games are worth reviewing in their own right, but here are some quick notes for the four that I boosted.

NBA Live 07 - This was EA's second attempt at a pro basketball game on the 360, and it wasn't much of an improvement over the first. Rachel saw me playing it and immediately started mocking the player feels like these guys are playing in cement shoes. The game completely fails to capture the speed and athleticism of basketball players. The Achievements are built around the very stupid "high flyer" system, which turns the game into a fancy version of NBA Jam. At least the online awards were pretty easy to get, though the server was unstable and dropped me more than once.

NCAA March Madness 07 - Practically the same game, but college players instead of pros. I will say that the Achievement set is better constructed for this one, as it eschews the high flyer crap for a more sensible "pump up the crowd" mechanic. The online servers seemed more stable as well. Question: why do sports games not include Achievements for winning a championship anymore???

NBA 2K7 - Sega's competing NBA title. To put it bluntly, it's superior to NBA Live 07 in every way. Don't take that as any kind of comment going forward...I haven't played any of the newer versions so maybe EA has overtaken Sega in their respective franchises at this point. In any case, NBA 2K7 has more fluid gameplay and a more cooperative camera. Just don't play at the highest difficulty level unless you have a high tolerance for bullshit from the computer. On one play I drove to the hoop uncontested with Lebron James for a dunk, only to have Tony Parker of the Spurs shift over and block it at the last moment. In reality, James would go through Parker like a freight train. Whatever...I enjoyed my time with this one.

Facebreaker - This is a "boxing" title, but really it's more of a dumbed down fighting game. I think it wants to be Mike Tyson's Punch Out for a new generation, what with the goofy characters and fight locales. I found it tediously boring though, doubly so online where you need to bang out 50 victories to finish the Achievement set. Seems a little excessive, no? And these servers were maddeningly unstable, routinely dropping me or my opponent before the match could finish. This was the worst of the four titles I played, and I don't recommend it to anyone.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

WAA - Alone in the Dark

Time for WAA! This week: Alone in the Dark.

The "One With Combat"Award: "Basic Combination"
Alone in the Dark features an item synthesis mechanic in which you take items that you find and combine them to make something else. Like say, combining a handkerchief with a bottle of alcohol to make a Molotov cocktail. For this Achievement, you just need to put some double sided tape on any kind of bottle, both of which are found in vast abundance throughout the game.

The "Mile High Club" Award: "Cockpit Addict"
There really aren't any difficult Achievements in Alone in the Dark, though there are a few that are somewhat tedious (see below). I did fail "Cockpit Addict" a few times though, so I guess it gets the award. One of the levels features a brief driving sequence through the city, and to get the award you have to complete it in Cockpit Mode, which is essentially driving the car in first person. The only challenge is that the low camera angle from that view prevents you from seeing very far down the road.

The "Seriously..." Award: "Blazing Roots"
About midway through the game you have to wander around Central Park burning these big, bizarre-looking roots. They're spread all over the place and usually guarded by a bunch of enemies. It gets old QUICKLY. Then just for kicks, the game decides that was so much fun that you have to do the exact same thing again later. If you can withstand the tedium of hunting down every one of the roots, this Achievement will be your reward.

The "Little Rocket Man" Award: "The Smart Fighter"
There are lots of ways to kill bad guys in this game - bullets, blunt trauma, hand-to-hand, run 'em over with a car, etc. But the most satisfying BY FAR is to use an aerosol spray can and your trusty lighter to create a makeshift that's entertainment!

The Scientist Gone Gamer Award: "Fisherman's Foe"
Oh I wish, I wish, I hadn't killed that fish...

Achievement Set Rating - 4
On the plus side, the set rewards you for trying all the different game mechanics and exploring a lot of different item combinations. However, there are some exceptionally tedious awards like burning all the roots and creating every possible combination of items in the game (I was mucking about with that for a while) that really drag the set down a notch. And the icons themselves are ugly and repetitive, which doesn't help matters.

Achievement Difficulty Rating - 3
The game isn't very long and a lot of the Achievements are gained for just completing all the levels and beating the game. If you play through without even specifically trying to farm awards you'll still end up with the majority of the points. Then it's just a matter of going back and grinding away on the last few to finish the set.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 End of Year Awards

Hey, everyone else does this, so why not me? But I'm going to add a strange twist to my 2009 awards...mine will be based on the games I played in 2009 rather than on games that were released in 2009. That means that my game of the year could have been released in 2007. The only caveat is that all honorees are games I started this past giving Orange Box game of the year just because I played a little Team Fortress 2 at some point in 2009.

Anyway, on with the awards!

Best Gameplay - Fable 2
The original Fable was a nice step forward for gameplay in the RPG genre, but Fable 2 beats it in every way. Combat is engaging and varied, interacting with the populace is a blast, and there's even a kind of SimCity/Monopoly style sub-game in which you can buy up property and create a real estate empire.
Runner up - Dead Space

Worst Gameplay - Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust
Forget the fact that the combat system is repetitive, the mini-games are boring, and the camera seems to be suffering from a severe hangover. All that pales in the face of the numerous bugs and glitches that litter this title and make it virtually unplayable.
Runner up - Jumper: Griffin's Story

Best Graphics - Dead Space
Gorgeous visuals in this one, with some really frightening looking enemy models. The dark, claustrophobic hallways of the ship add to the ambiance that makes this game so entertaining.
Runner up - Pure

Worst Graphics - Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust
Are we seeing a trend here? To say that these are Playstation One level graphics is an insult to a proud console.
Runner up - Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

Best Story - Lost Odyssey
It wasn't a great year for this category, but Lost Odyssey is the clear winner. Kaim's tragic story of loss and heartbreak as he lives the lonely life of an immortal is poignant and well-told.
Runner up - Dead Space (I guess)

Worst Story - Fable 2
Possibly the most contentious award of the year. Resident Evil 5 was a strong contender, further boosted by its bizarre forays into unintentional racism. Prince of Persia should get a mention as well for the massive kick in the balls that it delivers to the player at the end. And don't think for a second that Larry couldn't make a case for his shitty game here as well. But the worst of the worst has got to be Fable 2, which features a plot that misfires at every turn. I've never encountered a game in my life that was more Hellbent on antagonizing the player. Nothing in the plot makes a bit of sense, and the "characters" act without a shred of regard for their backgrounds or personalities. The plot is so egregiously terrible that it drove Shamus Young to write a four-part epic post disassembling the awfulness bit by bit.
Runners up - RE5, PoP, Leisure Suit Larry, and probably some others

Best Multiplayer Experience - Borderlands
Borderlands is a fun single player title, but throw in some buddies and this thing jumps to a whole new level. The drop in/drop out system works perfectly, lag is rare, and the different characters work well as a team.
Runner up - Battlefield 1943

Worst Multiplayer Experience - Soul Caliber 4
There's nothing I enjoy more than being pummeled like a rag doll by people who obsess over every detail of a fighting game.
Runner up - none (I don't play much online)

Best Industry Trend - Live Deal of the Week
I (and many others) have long thought that online content is too pricey. Surprisingly, Microsoft listened. Every week they put one piece of downloadable content on sale for a greatly reduced price, which can be a heck of a bargain. Sometimes it's a discounted game like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or The Maw. Other times it's add-on content for retail games. And sometimes it's just gamerpics or desktop themes. But regardless, it's always a fun surprise.

Worst Industry Trend - In Game Transactions
So I'm playing Dragon Age and there's a guy in my camp with a quest. But what's this? He wants me to pay money to do it...not in-game money but REAL ACTUAL money. No cash, no quest. So designed the content, put it on the disc, and then locked it away until I give you more money even though I already paid for the game? Isn't that like extortion? And why is it that when I play Need For Speed: Underground it asks if I want to use Microsoft Points (which cost money) to upgrade my vehicles? What on earth is going on here???

Best Live Arcade Game - 1 v. 100
The video game/game show hybrid that's taken Live by storm...this is a fun diversion, it's surprisingly addictive, and best of all, it's free!
Runners up - Battlefield 1943, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Penny Arcade: Episode One

Worst Live Arcade Game - 3 on 3 NHL Arcade
I actually didn't play many BAD Arcade games this year, but NHL Arcade is as shallow as a mud puddle. You'll play this thing once or twice and never touch it again.
Runner up - None

Best Achievement Set - Fable 2
Excellent variety is what sets this game apart. Given how terrible the story is, it's nice to have something else to work toward.
Runners up - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Borderlands

Worst Achievement Set - Blazing Angels
Depending on your skill with flight sims, you'll find them to be either difficult or impossible. Either way, you'll definitely find them tedious. Any game that you could play for 20 hours and walk away with no Achievements is doing something really wrong.
Runners up - CSI: Hard Evidence, College Hoops 2K7


Worst Game - Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust
As if there were any doubt. Resident Evil 5 was probably the year's most disappointing game for me, and Jumper was a mess (though mercifully short). Still, nothing had me muttering profanities at my television like Larry. I can only hope that the people responsible for this "game" are ashamed at the shoddy effort that they marketed to unsuspecting consumers. I consider every dollar they made from this title (and it couldn't have been many) to be stolen.
Runners up: Resident Evil 5, Jumper Griffin's Story

Best Game - Borderlands
Every aspect of this game is solid, and the amazing multiplayer pushes it over the top. I've had more fun playing Borderlands in 2009 than any other game.
Runners up - Dead Space, Lost Odyssey

Saturday, January 2, 2010

1 v. 100

1 v. 100 is a kind of video game/game show hybrid available free to Xbox Live members. It follows pretty closely in the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" tradition, with a selected contestant answering increasingly difficult trivia questions as they climb a prize ladder for escalating cash payouts.

The hook to this particular game is that the contestant, referred to as The One, is simultaneously competing against 100 other people, referred to as The Mob. To move up the ladder, the One must answer questions correctly as members of the Mob miss them. For every 10 people in the Mob that are eliminated, the One moves up a rung. Then they decide whether they want to keep the money they've earned or continue. If the One misses a question, then the Mob is the winner and the prize is divided amongst the remaining Mob members.

Everyone logged into the game that isn't selected to be the One or part of the Mob is in the Crowd. The Crowd plays along with the game, but doesn't affect the progress of the One or the Mob. It's like playing along at home, but you get to see how your score compares to everyone else.

Just like Millionaire, the One gets three "help" options. They can trust the Mob, the Crowd, or the top 10 scorers in the Crowd, taking the most common answer among those groups. The catch is that if they're wrong, you're out.

I played about two hours worth of 1 v. 100 last night (always as a member of the Crowd), and I made a couple observations about the game.

1. The "help" options are of dubious usefulness.

The early questions are really easy, so most players don't need help. But as the game progresses, the questions get more difficult. Eventually the One runs into a question that he or she can't answer. So the One uses a help option. Here's the problem: the question is just as tough for everyone in the Mob or the Crowd as well. I'd postulate that, given the pool of players comes entirely from people with access to Live, the majority of the people in the game represent a pretty narrow demographic. One would reasonably guess then that if the One falls within that demographic and they don't know the answer to a question, then the average responder from the Mob or Crowd won't know either.

In other words, just when you need help the most, you're least likely to get any. As far as I can tell, the best option for the One is to assess where his or her knowledge base is likely to be weak compared to the average Live user, and aggressively utilize their help options in those categories. Saving them until you get to an impossibly difficult question doesn't seem like a logical strategy to me. Of course, that seems to be what everyone does. Which brings me to...

2. The average 1 v. 100 player is pretty good at trivia and pretty AWFUL at logic

In general, I was pretty impressed with how knowledgeable my fellow players were. It seemed like people were capable of answering over 75% of the questions, which could be quite tricky at times. But everything would go out the window once someone became the One.

Being effective as the One requires both the knowledge to answer the questions and the risk-assessment acumen to understand when it's time to stop and take the money. Unfortunately, I can only conclude that the average Live user is sadly lacking in the latter skill and, even more shocking, COMPLETELY IMPERVIOUS TO TRAINING.

Time after time over the course of two hours, the same pattern would play out. The One would breeze through the first few questions without using any help. The Mob would get slowly thinned. Then the questions would get more difficult, the One would bang out a few more correct answers, and the Mob would get cut to around 30 people. At this point, I would think "Take the money and run, buddy. It's going to be tough sledding from here." But nope, the One would choose to press on, leading to an inevitable conclusion. Eventually they get a very hard question, use one of their help options, and sadly discover that their "helpers" don't know the answer any better than they do, losing everything in the process. Then the next One gets selected and I hope that he learned something from the last guy's failure, only to be disappointed again and again.

The most egregious example I saw was about midway through my play session. At this point, the Mob had won EVERY SINGLE ROUND. I thought that SURELY the next One would have taken note of this and adjusted their strategy. Little did I realize the level of retardation I was about to witness. The next contestant struggled right out of the gate. He needed to use a help option practically every other question, even on questions that I thought were pretty straight-forward. But by some small miracle his "help" was actually helpful for once and, even better, the Mob was struggling as badly as he was. After using his third and final help option, the Mob was cut to exactly 30 players, pushing him up to a high level on the cash ladder and allowing him to choose whether to stop or proceed.

Let's analyze this situation logically. This guy had got to this point by the skin of his teeth. He was out of help and past the point where it would typically be useful anyway. The remaining members of the Mob are the ones who are, on average, the most knowledgable, as evidenced by the fact that they made it to this point (without any help). On top of all that, the One is as far from the next cash level as you can be, since he needs to knock out a full 10 players to advance. If you were at 21 and only needed to knock out one person to proceed, it might be more tempting to take one more shot at it. But in this situation? This is as much a no-brainer as you could get. It's time to quit and thank your lucky stars you made it this far.

Imagine my surprise when the One ignored any pretense of logic and chose to proceed. Needless to say, he choked on the VERY NEXT QUESTION, losing everything.

Anyway, 1 v. 100 is an amusing diversion and kept me entertained for a couple hours. There are even Achievements to be earned while playing. Not bad for a free add-on to Live.