It was a good week for demos this week, or at least, there were several new ones to take a peek at. Oddly enough, a full 50% of the demos I spent time with featured Vin Diesel's electronic likeness. His star may have faded in Hollywood, but find it interesting that he's still trying to make a mark in the Uncanny Valley.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. I was a big fan of the first Riddick game on Xbox. It was sophisticated, the graphics were cutting edge, and the game itself was much better than the source material that inspired it. As great as it was back then, based on this demo, it seems as though the industry has passed Riddick by.
To start with, the segment of gameplay featured in this demo was a horrible choice. It seems to be taken directly from the middle of some longer series of tasks, and doesn't show the stealth element that the first game was known for. Level design was in the "interstellar drab" style of metallic hallways and doors that look like walls, and there's an odd section where the player is asked to take control of a "drone" and leave the body of the main character. It might work just fine in the main game, but in a demo, everything here felt like it missed the mark. The graphics (another high point for the first title) weren't at all impressive, either… with clunky mechanics and unimpressive visuals, what was this demo supposed to show us?
Have you ever found yourself playing something that you weren't really crazy about, but you played it anyway? There are lots of reasons for doing so… maybe you spent the last of your budget on a title that the reviews were far too kind to, or maybe there's nothing really hot or exciting on shelves and you've got nothing better to do. Whatever the case, I imagine that anyone who plays games finds themselves in that same position occasionally. That was the situation this afternoon.
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).
With the recent rush of quality user reviews coming in, it's nice to see that there are a lot of people who know how to write and communicate effectively. Unfortunately, with many Internet scribes using "lol" as punctuation, it's time for the first (and hopefully final, but I doubt it) installment of David: The Grammar Nerd.
Our guest this week is developer Nathan Fouts of Mommy's Best Games. He's the creator of the Xbox Community Game Weapon of Choice, which we covered several episodes ago--and yes, he calls us out on many of our criticisms. He also talks candidly about the freedom and frustration of Community Games development, what inspired Weapon of Choice, and somehow it culminates into a Devil May Cry 3 rant that must not be missed. Our thanks to Nathan for participating! Be sure to visit his website at www.mommysbestgames.com.
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.
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.
I've been paying close attention to Electronic Arts' new IP, Dante's Inferno, since it was rumored a few months ago. A video game based on a classic piece of literature is intriguing enough (although I'm hoping Pride & Prejudice & Zombies never makes the jump to game-dom, even if it features Nazi zombies…), but one that's not only based on literature but set in Hell and looks like a God of War clone sets my geek-o-meter buzzing well into the red-zone.
Here's the first trailer for the game. Obviously, someone on the development team played and loved God of War—but is that a bad thing? If you're going to imitate something, you probably should imitate something really good—and it's hard to get much cooler than God of War when it comes to action games featuring giant set-pieces. The only real negative I see here is the giant multi-headed hellhound things looked cheesy to me. Maybe they'll fix them—or maybe I’ll like them more when I see them in the actual game. Too early to tell.
No word on a release date yet, but I'll keep you posted.
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.
When we asked you to pick any game for us to discuss, we certainly didn't expect you to pick God Hand. But you did, so we did. Plus, what makes a critic a critic, Streets of Rage 2 (no, that's not a typo), and at long last, Chi Kong Lui on River City Ransom. Warning: This episode contains a revelation that will BLOW YOUR MIND. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim Spaeth.
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