Shank!

I thought I’d drop a quick post about an awesome new game that I haven’t actually bought yet on XBLA, Shank.

Shank Screen 1

Shank Freeze

Shank is a side-scrolling action game drawn in a cel-shaded format very similar to Penny-Arcade.   In fact, if the PA boys haven’t brought up a fuss (which they should) I guess it’s all fine, but the similarity in the art styles is rather striking.  Anyway, the game itself seems to be ultra-violent with lots of blood splatter and varying death animations.  Shank’s girl is kidnapped and he’s going after the parties responsible.

I only played about 30 minutes through including one boss battle, but I was hooked pretty quickly.  I think the asking price , $15 is a bit steep considering I don’t how much gameplay is there.  But I strongly urge you to go check it out if only for a short while.  From what I understand the multiplayer seems to hold a lot of promise as well.

Shank in Action

Shank in Action

Fall Games Lineup

CNN has a post up this morning about this Fall’s upcoming “must-play” lineup.  I’ll spare you some of the pain there and tell you the five they’re mentioning:

  • Halo: Reach
  • Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
  • Fallout: New Vegas
  • Civilization V
  • Medal of Honor

I”m experiencing a bit of indifference because for the first time in a long while, I don’t really want to play any of the games coming out in the very expensive, normally quite crowded holiday season.  It’s actually kind of strange because I’ve been into video games for quite a while.  I know that I’m experiencing some changes in my personal life with my attempt at heading back to school to finish up a BA degree soon but still… What is this?

Games represent a lot to me– aside from enjoying a (sometimes) interactive storyline, I enjoy playing them both for their rewards and their experience.  My friends also play video games and so it’s common topic of conversation: “What are you playing this week?”  “Did you try out (insert title here)?”.  Often we talk about shared experiences of beating a tough boss or finding some cool new thing that we’ve never seen before.  Unfortunately I find myself to be getting burnt out by the “sameness” of some of these titles.

Let’s take a look at that list again: 3 out of 5 of those titles have a colon in their title somewhere suggesting that instead of providing a number indicating the sequel’s position they decided to not tell you just which one this is in the series.  All of the titles are sequels– this is Halo 5, Guitar Hero 5 or 6, Fallout 4, Civ 5, and Medal of Honor 5 or 6.  Of these titles I’d say I’ve played all of their predecessors at least once, and some of them I really enjoyed.  All of the titles seem to have had an inception somewhere around 2001 it seems as well aside from Fallout (which received a reboot a few years back), and Civ (which seems to go long stretches in between game variants anyway).

2001 was the start of the Xbox-PS2-GameCube race that apparently has moved the industry to where it is today: 3 large companies competing over the same market, and pumping out the same titles over and over.  When did I suddenly start not liking the same stuff?

Some of it has to do with playing smart original titles that don’t necessarily fit any of the existing categories and surprising myself.  A lot of these titles belong in the scene I’ve dubbed “Indie-cade“, sort a mash of Indie Arcade.  These titles are often created and produced from one or two brains instead of a team of 30-100 people.  One title that I recently finished, Limbo was done with 5 people including art, dev, music and production.  That’s crazy and really cool at the same time.  They’ve now sold over 300,000 copies on XBLA, which I hope means it paid for itself and are continuing their awesome sales run. Limbo itself has a very simple concept: get the main character through this side-scroller with one action button, and survive. There are booby traps, environmental puzzles, and occasionally an enemy or too that wants to kick your butt.  The game took me about 6 hours of playtime and was well worth the $15 I think.

Limbo Screenshot

I told you it was B&W...

The art style is fantastic– very minimalist, black and white with some occasional twists thrown in.  If I could hear the soundtrack over my “helicopter-taking-off-Gen1-X360-fan-noise”, I’d tell you it was creepy and effective.  This title was unlike anything I’d played before and unlike the major-AAA titles coming out this Fall.

I picked up a MacBook Pro back in April, one of those snazzy i7, 17″ beasties that I love.  Soon after, Valve released a MacOS Steam client and I started to play some more Indie-cade games on the Mac.  Again, these titles don’t scream AAA but I found them to be more fun than sitting on my X360 playing shovelware.  Torchlight is one of the standout dual-platform games I’ve found and enjoyed playing in-between tasks.

I’m wondering what I’ll by occupying my time with in the coming months– I’ve started a little game with myself to try some of the older titles I own but never really played a lot of.  Maybe I’ll find some gems there, but certainly not coming out of a major publisher.  Perhaps that’s ok.

Alan Wake Impressions

Apologies for the long delay here between updates. I’ve started a new gig (to be written a in a future post) and have been kind of fumbling around a bit trying to get my rhythm. I also seem to be trying to do an inordinate amount of “household” things as Spring is here and my apartment is a mess. What better way to waste some of that critical time than by playing a game? 🙂

Alan Wake LE Boxart

The Limited Edition case...

I’ve been limiting myself to a one-game-per-month kind of digestion cycle. Partially this is a money thing– at $60 a pop I’m trying to save a bit of cash for other personal projects. This month I chose Alan Wake and it’s Limited Edition Variant too. Ooh. Gaze at it’s mighty splendor here:
The LE contains the game, a printed book, a bonus .XEX with themes, trailers and an unlockable dev commentary mode. There’s also a nifty soundtrack that I didn’t find relevant until I started playing the game. Hello context!

You play as (duh) Alan Wake an author who takes a brief vacation with his wife Alice to a fictional place called Bright Falls, WA. Alan is suffering from writers block and hasn’t written a page in a few years. His wife find a specialist in the city who could potentially help Alan, but then weird shit starts happening. Alice is kidnapped and Alan keeps waking up in the dark having to fight some mean nasties with the only tools at his disposal: photons. I’m not kidding: the primary weapons are flashlights, road flares, and other lights. Guns play a big part too, but the light-dark thing is the key game component here. The game is episodic in nature and plays out a bit like a TV show which really works for it.

Alan shooting a flare gun

See? Photons.

Other folks have drawn comparisons to The X-Files or Twin Peaks— personally it feels quirky like those with a healty dose of The Outer Limits thrown in. In fact the in-game meta-media (my term for the media assets you’ll actively engage in the game: radio, TV, posters, other messaging) has a TV show called Night Falls. I’ve actually watched a couple of episodes in game. It’s nifty. 🙂

Here’s what else you need to know: It’s third-person, smooth, fluid and fun. The story is not exactly a surprise but its still very tense. Audio design is excellent and I really benefited from experiencing it in 5.1. Visual design is somewhat striking but I’m not sure if I enjoy it because I’m from the Pacific Northwest and they seemed to get a fair amount correct. The flora and fauna are very accurate, and the small details are what I like to experience in a game. Something about walking through the forest and noting, really noting that the ferns are the same as the species in your backyard is kind of cool. The woods manages to feel like a tangled place without a path and a led path at the same time. Great cuing. The engine itself specializes in the day/night cycle and things really do look beautiful. Draw distance is quite nice, and I’ve only seen the engine shortcut while drawing fog (super-scaled down res and masive pixelation).

Alan Wake engine showing day/light shift

Engine rendering of times of day.

As you might’ve surmised there are a great deal of real-time lights and you can generate gobo effects with Alan’s flashlight and shadows from other objects in path.

Where I’m yanked out rather quickly are the cutscenes. Wooden character animations, and that awful chuck-tooth mouth open close maneuver that reminds me of marionettes. The voice acting is ok, but we’re down here in zombie character land and it shows. It’s a shame really because its about the only negative thing I can find so far.

I’m currently about 40% through the game and my decision is pretty well made up. Alan Wake is worth your time. For a game that’s been in development for 5 years it shows some attentiveness to vision.

Mass Effect 2 Impressions (X360)

I hate posting reviews of an item that I have yet to finish. I think its rather horrible of me to act like I’ve played something through to the end, report it as “good”, and then maybe suggest you spend your hard-earned cash on the same item. Therefore, I’ll call this an “impression” because I have yet to finish the game. (And that’s a good thing; I really want to savor this.)Mass Effect 2 CE (X36) Box Art

I’ll spare you the boring details of ME2 that you’ll find elsewhere on the web. The critical thing is that the game is good, better than ME1 but in a different way. The converation trees are deeper, the consequences greater, the characters more refined, and the technical and artistic design of the game quite beautiful. More importantly: the universe is far deeper.

Let me give you an example: Without sharing too much of the story, you spend most of your time (as well as I can ascertain anyway) on a new station called Omega. Its sort of a rogue installation far away from the Citadel and its usual cleanliness. Back-alley deals go down here; people get shot all the time, and you can get in touch with your seedier side if you so wish. The nightclub areas are a step up, oozing feeling and I find myself thinking “This would be an awesome club if it actually existed!”. And that’s what I mean, all over this game I find myself really wishing this universe, this storyline actually existed. I haven’t felt that way since watching Star Wars as a kid.

One of the better things about ME2 is how it seems to integrate into the trilogy arc as a whole. Just like the first game there is an entire galaxy to explore, but it assumes you’ve played the first one. The whole “right side” of the galaxy map is the area you explored in the first game and wouldn’t need to see again. The Citadel, once an area of great exploration with stores, clubs, C-Sec, etc. to explore is like a small afterthought– you’ve been here before, now go explore these new stations and planets. Even the exploration of planets has changed– where once you used the hulking, lumbering Mako vehicle to actually land on planets and explore them, you now scan from space from the comfort of the new Normandy SR2. It is the inclusion of the light, mini-games within the Mass Effect universe that I think is so cool.

I am a bit disappointed to see that I now have to pick up ammo clips to replace my own, and that there’s a decreased amount of things to pick up. However, I can’t argue with the simple inventory system and the fact that I don’t have to have 47 versions of the same armor stacking up my precious inventory spaces. I’m mixed about the increased reliance on shooting abilities– I really liked that ME1 was an RPG first, and a shooter second. This one seems to have flipped that around, but apparently the Internet disagrees with me: Glowing reviews suggest that it was the right way to go.

ME2 Screenshot

ME2 Screenshot

I’m about 12 hours into what is being touted as a 30-hour game and I’m loving every second of it. I’m taking my time with all of the side-quests but I want to get done before next week’s release of BioShock 2. It appears there is a larger plan for DLC– there was Day One content released, but I get the feeling we’ll be seeing some of this stuff for the next year or so.

Well done BioWare! You guys rock as always. Maybe you’ll hire me one of these days…

Mass Effect 2 Videos: http://www.masseffect.com/media/videos/

“Yo, Imma let you finish but…”