Finished Darwinia+ on Xbox Live Arcade. Although I was initially skeptical of its $15 asking price, by the time I finished the single-player campaign I felt as though I got more than my money's worth. (And I didn't even touch the multiplayer at all…)
Although the gameplay is fairly straightforward (enter a zone, clear it of enemies) it was almost Zen-like in a way. Taking control of a six-man squad and methodically wiping out all opposition was a lot more calming than I would have initially guessed.
Sweetening the deal, the super-clean Tron aesthetics were very attractive and the developers capitalize on the "virtual life inside a computer" premise fairly well. The campaign felt as though it was exactly the right length, and after finishing the epilogue, I unlocked a neat Avatar shirt that I might actually use. I'm not too keen on paying money for Avatar items, but I do appreciate when developers toss something your way. It sort of commemorates the experience for me, I think.
Although it irritates me when half a game’s Achievements are related to multiplayer, I still give Darwinia+ a Recommend. (The single-player part, anyway.)
Moving on, I'm going to get back into Risen on 360 starting tomorrow. I was only able to put about an hour into it this week, but I was really liking what I saw so far.
The capsule on Risen is that the player takes control of a male character (no gender choice or appearance customization, boo!) who washes up on a tropical island after a wizard capsizes his ship. Waking up on the beach, the player has nothing except what can be scavenged nearby—a wooden stick, some gold coins, and some raw shellfish. Initially, there’s no map and no suggestion as to what to do, so it's up to the player to explore the surroundings and see what can be seen. After taking down some nearby fauna, I explored a cave and looted some chests. Soon after, I made my way to the top of a ridge to an abandoned house to find... a frying pan.
That's right, Risen has players cooking their food for sustenance. With just the push of a button, I had some tasty seafood, roasted bird, and fried mystery meat in my inventory, all waiting to be devoured. I'm a big fan of Western RPGs’ exploration, open worlds, skill-building, and cooking monster meat. Risen seems to offer all of these things in great amounts, so despite being a little rough on the technical side, this game is giving off all the right vibes. More on this later.
Speaking of RPGs, Chris Vandergaag over at The Side Mission has a new humor piece up about a gamer who's upset with developers for forcing him to play as himself. Check it out if you're in the mood for a chuckle.
Speaking of RPGs (yes, again) supa-playa Teryx has updated his superb Mass Effect walkthrough checklists for both games. If you haven't played either of these titles yet, or you're going back for a second run through and you want to bank a perfect save file, my guess is that you’ll find these lists pretty handy. I used the ME1 list myself prior to starting ME2 and was quite pleased to find more than a few things I had missed the first time around. Take a gander and tell Teryx I sent you.
Finally, I had originally intended on writing a fairly lengthy post about Heavy Rain, but I've decided against it for a couple of reasons. However, the official review will be done by Richard Naik, so it's definitely in good hands. However, there are two bits I'd like to mention.
The first is that although I have no intention of replaying the game myself, it's been quite entertaining—fascinating, really—to watch my wife go through it. I had warned her against spoilers and she had only seen me playing the game for a moment or two, so she was essentially coming into it a blank slate. Although there haven't been any drastic changes, she did trigger a few minor cut scenes that I did not see during my game, and trying to guess the choices she's going to make as an entirely new level of suspense to the experience.
The second thing is that having completed the game myself, I couldn't help but feel that Quantic Dream list a bit of an opportunity in the way that they structured the story. As it stands, the four main characters go about their business and the player will cycle through all of them in a fairly balanced fashion. However, it occurred to me that the story would be stronger and more cohesive if the game put the player in only one character's shoes and stayed there unless that character got killed. In that event, then the game could shift the player into the next character and continue in that plot line uninterrupted. If the second character ends up dead, then the third makes an appearance, and so on.
Heavy Rain is an incredibly interesting experience the first time, but once the mystery is revealed, there is precious little reason to go back to it. A system like I just described would certainly provide a much greater level of replay, not to mention that there are several odd occurrences and weird things that happen in the plot when all four characters are on the prowl. By only focusing on one character at a time, it seems to me that the developers would have less balls in the air and would have been able to craft a much tighter tale for each separate time through the game. (Having the Origami Killer be a different person for each character would have been a great bonus as well.)
Just something to think about.