Saturday, August 28, 2010

Elementary!


The anticipation of PAX next week has been incredibly distracting. Although I have been playing a TON of games lately I just can’t seem to find the time to write about them. Until today! I have about six shots of espresso in my system and (Do You Want to Date My) Avatar? on repeat (if someone can explain the term ‘tank & spank’ to me I would be eternally grateful) so I am revved up to talk about my latest game: Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper! I know, it sounds terribly dull and most of your eyes have probably glazed over, so I figured it was probably better for everyone if I defended this little sleeper of a game with as much faux energy as possible.

Let me first confess that this wasn’t a game I sought out intentionally-it was definitely a GameFly Q filler. In between all of the spring releases and “Coming Soon” fall releases, Sherlock Holmes seemed like mild entertainment even if its rating is incredibly low. I have a soft spot for Jack the Ripper…wait, I am saying that wrong…I have a morbid curiosity about the unsolved Victorian case, which I can always defend by using the following phrase: “I was an English History major in college”. As a history major, I think it’s interesting to follow all of the ‘theories’ floating around as to the identity of the killer. Alan Moore pointed at Sir William Gull, the Queen's physician, in From Hell, one my favorite graphic novels, and Patricia Cornwell 'solved’ the crime a few years ago by highlighting Walter Sickert as the notorious Whitechapel butcher. Last time my mother & I were in London we took a “Jack the Ripper Walk” that included all of the infamous murder spots and ended in the Ten Bells Pub-a delicious late night tourist activity. When I asked our tour guide in London, who was also part of a group of Ripperologists (not my term, theirs), if he thought Cornwell has solved the case he scoffed and said “hardly” with an elitist smirk. It was beautiful. So I was interested to see how the game would pan out-which of the usual suspects would the game developers pinpoint? And if so, would they have a theory why the crime is still officially unsolved?

While playing Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper it’s best to turn the sound off and just read the dialogue on the screen, as though you are investing in a fantastic mystery novel. Because the voice acting is so bad. I could swear they didn’t even find English actors for this-just told a bunch of Americans to give ‘em their best Cockney and go to town with it. The NPC prostitutes and vagrants wander the streets of Whitechapel like zombies with dirty cheeks and pox scars always responding the same way-'it's cold, guv, let's go somewhere and get warm'. Blech. And its chock full of bugs-once I got a bug that was so bad I couldn’t even see the screen anymore and had to reset the console. Characters jittered all of the time, passing their hands back and forth through solid objects, and once I had to wander around for AGES to find a tiny toothpick of a stick I was looking for to advance. I walked by it 100 times beforehand without the interaction icon appearing-seriously problematic. I have a hunch that the developers intended this to be a PC-only game and the port to the 360 was a well intended afterthought (cha-ching!).

But through all of the hurricane sized issues, I enjoyed the many hours I spent within the game. As I said earlier, the Jack the Ripper mystery is relevant to my interests, so it gave me the feeling that I was helping to solve the notorious 19th century case. The gameplay is investigative-looking for clues, talking to witnesses and solving puzzles. And the puzzles within the game were well thought out and fun to solve, even if sometimes you were presented with one without ANY guidelines and scratched your head for awhile. I admit, one of them made NO sense to me WHATSOEVER and I was forced to turn to the internet for assistance (how the hell did they figure that out? Those walkthrough folks are geniuses, I swear). The background was actually quite pretty in a dark and gritty Industrial Revolution kind of way. The most captivating aspect of Sherlock Holmes was definitely the progressive investigation elements. There were murder boards to deduce, timelines to consider and ah-ha! moments to savor. Every night I would get to a point where I would think, I should probably go to bed now, its midnight:30, and Sherlock would say, ‘Let’s go visit the cobbler’ and I would follow like a hypnotized puppet. Just one more conversation, I swear.


The game never held back the gory details of the historical crime scenes. While picking up clues on the victim’s bodies you used a magnifying glass on slashed necks, protruding tongues, missing noses or eyelids (syphillis) and once you even examined a bruised and shredded hand to determine that the victim’s rings had been taken-you knew because of the black markings around her middle finger. Only the last victim wasn’t shown or picked over for clues-they alluded heavily to the idea that we, the audience, wouldn’t want to even contemplate what happened to Mary Kelly in 13 Miller's Court. Even the normally unaffected Holmes rambled about in some sort of trauma-induced trance for a few minutes before shaking out of it a few moments later. Gross, I know, but I really appreciated the care they took with the basic history of the story-adding the right marking details, areas of London and a few of the real suspects for us to consider. And to be honest, these details are what drew me back night after night. In the end they did, indeed, ‘name’ a killer (who did some sort of murderous interpretive dance for Holmes under a spotlight at the end-and I am totally serious about this) and the reasons for Holmes not telling the public, but for spoiler reasons, I won’t divulge their conclusions.

Here are a couple of screen shots where Holmes referred to the Kelly murder in a poetic, British way:





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Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Bundle of Joy


We finally said enough is enough with the spotty functionality of our old 360 and marched down to Best Buy for the new model. The old, horribly unfashionable 'eggshell' model has now been retired and our new shiny toy has taken its place. RIP Xbox 360 from 2007, and Godspeed.

My sincerest apologies for the grainy iPhone shot.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Treasures in the Mail

badge1

Time to get ready for PAXPrime!


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Monday, August 16, 2010

Weekend in Review 4: Playstation 3 Edition


I am currently in the process of building a relationship with my Playstation 3. We have been distant for so many years due to my ongoing love affair with my Xbox, but I decided it was time to end our silence. I have to admit, it had been months since I last used my PS3 as a gaming machine (most of the time it is merely a Netflix movie player). I kept promising myself that I would pick up another PS3 exclusive in the meantime, but it just didn’t happen. I am not as in love with the community aspect of the PS3 as I am with Xbox Live. It’s just not as warm and fuzzy. Or maybe it’s not as colorful and I am prone to liking blinking, shiny, brightly colored objects more than the streamlined icon interface of the PS3 (plus I love dressing up my little Avatar in steampunk clothes). I am willing to admit that I choose things based on how a toddler or a squirrel would without too much shame. But I know that limiting myself as a gamer is definitely a negative attribute, and one that I need to quell in order to progress. I am missing so many great games (Uncharted 2, for example) by being a one console kind of girl. So lately I have been trying to find the components to build a friendship with my PS3 that can be long lasting and sustainable.

Matt purchased our PS3 last year for two reasons: the Blu-Ray player and Little Big Planet. He really liked the physics puzzles and the build-your-own-level aspects about LBP and encouraged me to give it a try. After setting up my internal profile, I got as far as acquiring a tiny costume for my little sack boy and didn’t progress much further, loyally heading back to my Xbox and scoffing about how I didn’t understand the controls or some sort of blah blah nonsense. What you have to understand at this point is that I grew up playing a myriad of games on the PSOne & PS2 and still own both systems, so the excuses I was making were pure drivel. I was just in love with the achievements and seeing my friends playing alongside me was like some sort of gamer social networking heaven. When Matt suggested Ratchet & Clank’s newest game as something I might enjoy, I must confess that I just turned my silly nose in the air. But then I started writing this blog. And I started to feel a combination of left out and ridiculous when it came to game announcements that were PS3 exclusive. I couldn’t very well write about video games in any sort of thorough way if I wasn’t trying them out, no matter the console.

My PS3 fast ended with Heavy Rain last spring. I relearned where the circle button was on the controller and thought that I would now be a multi-console user, no problem! But that didn't happen. Then our Xbox started having mechanical problems. I wrote about this issue long ago and said that we were planning on swapping out consoles, but we decided to try some experimental troubleshooting instead. It helped for awhile, but now it's getting worse. So just like any other broken piece of machinery, our options are to get a new one (not really financially viable at this point), smash it to bits (still an option) or remember to CONSTANTLY manually save during games like Mass Effect. Instead, I chose option four: God of War 3 on the PS3. The disc had been sitting on our entertainment center for roughly four months in its orange and white Gamefly sleeve-which is a pretty big financial investment on our part based on an intention. So, truthfully, my real reason for switching over to Sony is based more on the avoidance of a broken machine than my goal to play more games on the PS3.

But no matter what it took to get me here, I intend to stay for awhile. I updated my PSN profile, synced up my Trophy list and got a little widget for my page (see above right). I had a fairly good (/frustrated /slightly grossed out) time playing God of War 3 over the weekend and punched the hell right out of Zeus late last night after getting caught in a fight sequence bug that lasted for over an hour (I’ve heard of endurance boss fights, but that was ridiculous). I am going to take Matt’s previous advice and give Ratchet & Clank a chance. I may not ever choose to play anything but exclusive titles on the PS3, but I want to at least stop being such an Xbox loyalist.

Just out of curiosity, does anyone know what to do with an Xbox that continually locks up? I mean, besides chucking it into the nearest dumpster or harvesting it for parts, of course.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

In the News...

So many exciting announcements! I can barely keep up with all them, let alone prevent myself from succumbing to the giddy anticipation of PAX being only three weeks from now. Bliss!


Finally, finally, after so much silence, the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, has been announced for Fall 2011. Arkham Asylum was brilliant-I loved the combat and the intricate puzzles. It was also deliciously dark-the way Batman should be. I am much more inclined to favor the Dark Knight over the cartoon character and WBIA certainly delivered-kind of like the new Nolan movies vs. the old Schumacher ones. The Scarecrow scenes were definitely my favorite-even if the quick stealth and platforming mechanics were kind of dull. But that is what made the game great-the crazies each had their own little habitat with mysteries to solve in each one. And although collectables can sometimes be token (collecting for collecting’s sake), the game within a game aspect of AA’s puzzles made them way more interesting to solve. But some of the Riddler marks were frustratingly difficult to line up properly in order to correctly analyze them and I have to admit that I kept the goggles on throughout the entire game, which was surely not what they intended since the gritty color scheme was so striking and I almost missed it. Arkham City will be set in a new prison instead of the asylum (less hospital wards, I imagine) and has a whole new cast of loonies for Batman to dance with-including Catwoman…and Two Face?

In smaller, more XBLA-sized announcements, Double Fine has given us a few pictures from their Halloween themed cutie, Costume Quest:


Adorable! I am a big fan of Halloween and was wondering what I would be doing that night since the actual holiday falls on a Sunday. Question answered.


New DLC for Dragon Age, Borderlands and Bioshock 2 will be arriving between now and the next month or so. Dragon Age is unending-every time I think, ‘all right, this has to be the last one’ they announce new DLC for Origins. 'The Golems of Amgarrak' was released last Tuesday but I haven't had a chance to play it yet. The new Borderlands chapter will center around Claptraps with 'Claptrap's New Robot Revolution'...it’s been awhile since we visited Pandora's barren landscapes so it should be great to be back, shooting skags and rescuing our little robot friends. And FINALLY, there is new Bioshock 2 single player DLC, 'Minerva’s Den', which isn’t centered around combat (like the first one) and will have more story to tell. So much to play!


And in crazy, exciting, ZOMG breaking news, the third installment of the Bioshock series, Bioshock Infinite, has been slated for a 2012 release. The narrative is not related to Rapture and it’s NOT UNDERWATER-it's set in Columbia, a turn of the century floating city where *gulp* something terrible happens. No Big Daddies, no Little Sisters...what the heck is going on?! I'll let the professionals explain.


All I know is that I woke up this morning with no Bioshock and now I have more Bioshock and I am squee-ing with delight.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

This Was a TRIUMPH


What began two years ago has now been completed. Apparently, I wasn’t that far from the end when I last faced GLaDOS in the heart of Aperture Science, since when I picked it up again I was halfway through Chamber 18. This was definitely a collaborative effort, however, since Matt & I kept passing the controller back and forth until I broke out of the ‘lab’ and then once again during the final battle. I remember struggling to successfully portal around the turrets in order to knock them over the first time around, but this time it was no problem and sneaking up on the little passive aggressive units was pretty entertaining. Oh, how I heart listening to them talk…or I should say I love listening to them panic when you pick them up and toss them over a ledge.


When the game transitions from the pristine setting of the lab and into the backdrop of industrial mechanics it gets way more interesting. It’s like sneaking underneath the rides at Disneyland and seeing the grease and grit of the machinery when all Walt wants you to see is the magic. The maniacal scratching on the walls from a previous ‘test subject’ added to the madness of the situation, and it reminded me a bit of Bioshock-crazy words and phrases decorating every room (and the escape theme, of course). Overall, I was ecstatic to have finished Portal because now I can enter P2 without feeling like something is missing. My excited anticipation is officially justified.


Summer Challenge Two: Complete
Also, Blog Count @ 50: Complete!

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Forgotten Sands


For those who love and embrace platformers, I salute you. I have spoken volumes about my frustration when it comes to the beloved platformer and my inability to correctly finesse the buttons into doing what is expected of them. I would love to chalk it up to my old age, but alas, it is just not part of my collection of mad gaming skills. But I did it. I finished Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. And I would like to start by thanking my boyfriend, who does have the mad gaming skills I lack and was my savior when I couldn’t master the timing during a level near the final boss fight. I would also like to thank Ubisoft for placing the wall run command on the Right Trigger instead of the intricate jump and move that way combination I failed to grasp in AC2 & Prince of Persia (2008). Overall, I had a great time playing TFS and am especially happy because seeing the credits roll on an epic platformer was never something I thought I could achieve.

TFS developed really well in terms of elemental add-ons. The Prince progressively gains more supernatural abilities throughout the game, such as rewinding time or recalling destroyed areas of the palace from the gift of 'memory'. I adore these little quirks and got embarrassingly excited the first few times I saved myself using the ‘Rewind’ Button. For me, it was these progressive power additions that kept injecting life into a game that could have easily slid into pure monotony. The level design changed cosmetically while the mechanics remained the same, your objective being 'you are here…get to there'. You could tell that the same people who designed this game also designed the tomb levels in AC2-the presentation was identical. And although the narrative was almost non-existent, the landscape was truly beautiful. I never got tired of seeing the areas of the palace I was swinging around in, even if the actions never deviated beyond jumping from beam to beam or post to post.


And I just love it when games give me graceful button combinations. Besides the combat, which was largely hitting A-X or just mashing X over and over again, the game used every button on the controller in a deliberate and easy to navigate way. Right trigger, wall run. Left trigger, stop water. Right button, rewind time. Left button, palace memory. I had such a great handle on how they all flowed together-it felt almost artistic when guiding the Prince along his path. With the exception of the waterfall triple threat near the end of the game, I never really felt like any of the puzzles were unsolveable. And that is a powerful thing for me-if I feel as though I have reached an impossible situation I get really frustrated and hesitate to head back in for more. The completionist in me hates giving up-I really dislike quitting a game that I am enjoying because of a challenging chapter. I am certainly blessed to have help during these difficult areas-Matt can champion almost anything I can’t.

I feel quite accomplished right now. I challenged myself and succeeded. And even though the combat was lame, it was just weak enough to make me itch to play another action adventure game. I knew it was time when I started emphatically yelling out, ‘more enemies, bring on MORE ENEMIES!’ during the fight sequences. Thank goodness God of War III is currently sitting on top of my entertainment center.


And of course I unlocked the Ezio skin via UPlay. I just wouldn't be a true AC fan girl if I didn't dress up my little prince as an assasin.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Simtasia


Over the weekend we had dinner with a couple of friends and the subject of video games came up (as it always seems to go with us at the table). Somehow the conversation turned towards online life simulators such as Second Life and The Sims. Although neither of us ever really got into the genre, Matt & I both had some pretty humorous experiences with both the Sims Deluxe and The Sims 2 that I thought I would share.

WARNING-This is probably PG-13 to some audiences.

First of all, I have to admit that I probably should’ve been playing Sim City instead of Sims Deluxe, because at first all I wanted to do was design buildings. I acquired the cheat code for money (rosebud?) and could instantly afford to build the house of my dreams. And I did. My Simansion was delightful-full of modern art pieces and expensive furniture, divided in two by a giant staircase where an Olympic size pool glittered at the bottom. I created an outdoor area in the back with a hot tub and a raised deck-the landscaping was immaculate. Oh, right, and sometimes I actually played the game. But after a few conversations in creepy, nonsensical Sim-speak (is that a sailboat?) and consistently forgetting to go to work every day because I would always miss my carpool (I was choosing the perfect outfit), I got bored. I couldn’t add anything else to the house-it would break up the ideal Feng Shui environment-and I hated the monotony of eating, cleaning, showering and sleeping. It got to the point where I was watching my Sim character watch television. What the hell? How is this entertaining?


So I decided to try out some ‘extras’ I found online. The first thing I acquired was a chemistry set. By using the set you could concoct many different colored potions. Some of them were silly-if you drank the red one your worst ‘enemy’ in the neighborhood would pop in and fall in love with you. I think one of them reversed your stats so if you were social +3 you would now be social +8 or something similar. But my favorite was the Dark Green potion because it would invoke an evil twin. Supposedly, the clone is meant to wander around and wreak havoc on your relationships with your neighbors or something, but I am not your typical Sim owner. Instead, I would conjure up a voodoo doll (another downloadable), trap the twin in a room with no doors and use the voodoo doll on her. That’s right. I’m a WICKED WICKED Sim master. Eventually she would start crying so I would give her an espresso machine to make her feel better (you can tell where this is going, right?). Oooo, sorry, no bathrooms. Here’s a mop.

Another little extra I found was a pretty vase sitting on a marble stand that I placed near the door of my Simansion-the perfect accent piece. Okay, I’ll be honest. The download was called ‘Cursed Fire Vase’. Clicking on it gave you the option ‘Think About Fire’, and boy, did I ever. Thinking about fire ‘accidentally’ set the kitchen ablaze. I asked the resident Sims to put out the fire, but it got out of control and tragically, they perished in the inferno. So Death came a-calling, sickle in hand. But he, too, was soon in flames-a victim of ‘The Vase’. I think this is my favorite of the stories because at the time I couldn’t stop laughing. And it wasn’t maniacal, I swear. It was just really, really funny.

I wasn’t always so sadistic-sometimes I rewarded my Sims with a turn in the Orgasmatron. Yes, you are reading that right. The O-Tron looked like a high-tech cylindrical shower only without the frosted glass-like an upright tanning bed. A Sim would enter the O-Tron and emerge a few seconds later incredibly happy. Granted, they were pretty blurry below the waist and always ran for the bathroom post O-Tron, but delighted nonetheless. So see? I wasn’t always malicious!


When I started playing Sims 2 I knew it would be a little different because of the added procreation and parenthood elements. I placed me and Highlander’s Adrian Paul inside a lavish Simansion where we instantly got to work making whoopee in the hot tub. A baby soon followed. Then it was a toddler. Then I was bored again and such ended my Sims experience. Matt, on the other hand, has a great Sims 2 story. Apparently, he decided that Adam and Jamie from Mythbusters should share a house in the greatest bromance experience ever (For Science!). He even set them up with the highest quality telescope on the market-which of course meant imminent alien abduction. Adam was the chosen abductee and came back from his ‘visit’ a little changed-he was now pregnant with a wee little alien girl. No problem, these two are pros at experiments-they just raised her until she was a toddler before heading out into the dating world again. Domesticated Adam and Jamie is pretty amusing (hey, slash fic writers, Myth Confirmed!) and all the more so because it wasn't planned-the game put him in this inexplicable situation.

I might pick up a rental copy of the Sims 3 when the console version arrives this fall, but I will never be a die hard Sims player with a simulated job, a fake family and a digital house. I am doing pretty great with all of those things in the real world.

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