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Interview with Freezepop

Freezepop, a synth-pop group most commonly known for their fan-favorite contributions to several music-genre games such as Rock Band, Guitar Hero, FreQuency, Dance Dance Revolution (and others) were kind enough to take a few minutes out of their day to talk with me in support of their most recent full-length CD release, Future Future Future Perfect.

For those not familiar with the band, Freezepop consists of Jussi Gamache (aka Liz Enthusiasm, vocals), Kasson Crooker (aka the Duke of Pannekoeken, vocals, synths) and Sean Drinkwater (aka The Other Sean T. Drinkwater, vocals, synths).

Lara rising from Beneath the Ashes?

The new Tomb Raider: Underworld DLC came out today. Titled Beneath the Ashes, this new add-on level starts off with Lara Croft in her father's study, hidden underneath the burned wreckage of Croft manor. For those who haven't played Underworld yet, the story basically veers off towards Norse mythology elements, and Ashes has our heroine going deeper underground into a new secret area that was underneath the first secret area. Allegedly there's an artifact down there that can create and control the undead thralls that populated the latter stages of Underworld proper, and Lara's not one to leave vital artifacts unmolested, natch.

Tomb Raider Underworld: Beneath the Ashes DLC Screenshot

I watched a "developer's diary" video on Ashes a few weeks ago, and one of the folks putting it together spent some time saying that the Tomb Raider team really worked hard on the puzzles and were able to dig in and give it their best. I appreciate that they probably put a lot of effort into it, but frankly, I don't see it. Although it's shorter and more focused than any of the levels in the retail release, it still suffers from a heavy feeling of blah, not being very visually interesting and lacking any real personality. There were also a few spots where I was stuck—not because I couldn't figure out what to do, but because the areas still have a vaguely too-open feeling to them which was often complicated by Lara not jumping where I wanted her to. The two things combined led me to believe that I wasn't performing the correct action, resulting in some minor frustration and wasted effort.

I still call myself a Tomb Raider fan, but out of the three titles that Crystal Dynamics has had a hand in, I would rank Underworld dead last behind Anniversary and the stellar Legend. This DLC does nothing to change that, and continues the mediocrity that was present in its parent title. Additionally, this new level is overpriced at 800 points ($10) since most players will be able to get through it in less than two hours. Unless you’re an absolute Tomb Raider fanatic, I'd say that it's not worth the download.

Playing some snuff-games

Finished Manhunt (PlayStation 2) today for the first time. It was an interesting experience. Although it certainly lives up to its reputation as being an extremely graphic and gory game, there was a lot more to it than just that… the story and setting (death-row convict is rescued from the chair only to be thrust into a kill-or-be-killed game of hide and seek) were engaging, and the work with tone and mood were excellent. The stark, brutal feel and incredibly bleak outlook of the game’s entire world were very well-realized. There's also quite a bit of meat to chew on for people who like to delve into meta-commentary, but I'll save that for another post.

Art vs... Art?

This has been an eventful week for downloads on the PlayStation 3. Flower and Noby Noby Boy are now both available through the Store, and although I think it's correct to put them both in the same general category, my reactions to both couldn't be more different.

Flower

Flower is fantastic. I don't necessarily think it's the second coming as some seem to report it, but it is most definitely the kind of thing that makes a player step back and re-examine their entire conception of video games.

A bunch of random stuff! Attack!

Although I haven't had a ton of game time lately, I took advantage of the extended weekend and spent some time with two download titles, Lit and Flower.

Lit is from Way Fordward (Shantae, Contra 4) and makes its home on the Wii. An intriguing mix of Puzzle and Horror genres, the game’s hook is that touching darkness or shadows is instantly fatal. Naturally, the player must make his way through twenty-five rooms (and five boss battles) by taking advantage of paths and safe zones created by lamps, televisions, broken windows, and so on. My review is in the can already and should be making an appearance soon, but in a nutshell I'd say buy it if the subject matter appeals to you, just be prepared for some frustration due to a few poor design choices.

God Hand revisited

God Hand Screenshot

In preparation for this week's podcast (just wrapped up recording a few hours ago) we asked readers on the forums what title they'd like us to talk about, and they selected God Hand, from now-defunct Clover Studios. In all honesty, I never saw that one coming.

I picked up a copy back in '06 when it was brand-spanking new, and I think I logged somewhere around an hour or an hour and a half with it before I tossed it aside. I seriously hated the game at the time, my patience for its cumbersome controls and infuriating camera to be basically nil. It also didn't help that the game has an absolutely terrible first level, and does the bare minimum to introduce players to what it's all about.

Tokyo Beat Down Preview

Tokyo Beat Down Preview Screenshot Tokyo Beat Down Preview Screenshot

Another peek into the inner workings of fan-pleasin' publisher, they were kind enough to send along some photos and information on their upcoming title Tokyo Beat Down for the Nintendo DS. Unless you're the type of player that regularly picks up golden oldies, I'm guessing that it's been a while since a side-scrolling beat'em-up has come your way.

Interview with Nathan Fouts of Mommy's Best Games

For those of you who've been paying attention, a great little game called Weapon of Choice hit the Xbox 360’s Community area, and it's been on fire ever since. After spending time with it and doing the research on where it came from, I was a little surprised to discover that this title was essentially the work of one man—Nathan Fouts, formerly of dev studios Running with Scissors and Insomniac. Having worked on games such as Postal, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, and Resistance: Fall of Man, I had to know more.

Weapon of Choice Screenshot

What's the story behind being a part of Running With Scissors and Insomniac, and then going solo with Mommy's Best Games?

Downloadable games seemed like they could sustain a small company. I started Mommy’s Best Games to make the weirdest, funnerest games that I could squeeze past the censors. The best part is that on Community Games, while they do have ratings, there is no overbearing, money-hoarding publisher trying to rain on your game design parade. Consequently, no one stopped me when I started adding udders to the Teat Walker or various strands of drool to Pitcher Mouth.

Finishing The Force Unleashed

Polished off Star Wars: The Force Unleashed this afternoon, and it was a pretty fun thrill ride from start to finish.

I have to admit that I had heard the gameplay had some problems before I started it, so I set the thing to Easy and I'm glad I did. The developers have a real over-reliance on snipers and people firing from a distance which wouldn't be so bad except that it's far too easy to get knocked down and fall into a gang rape as you bounce back and forth between enemies. There's nothing more frustrating than getting ping-ponged without the chance to really do anything, and even on Easy it happened to me more than I like.

The Force Unleashed and getting an early look at Halo Wars

I'm still catching up with games from 2008 that I never got a chance to get around to… this week, I'm trying Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on the 360. I'm definitely a Star Wars fan (although less so since the new trilogy ruined everything) but I've got to say that so far, this one fits into the canon pretty well and I really like the tone. Playing as Darth Vader's secret apprentice is a neat concept, and LucasArts nailed his character design—his costumes all exude a sort of low-level wraith-like quality, and although I'm sure that there are only a finite number of ways to carry a lightsaber, this new "behind the back" style is pretty hot.

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