Monthly Archives: June 2010

More like the Illusive Demo from Mass Effect 2

Look, I don’t claim to know and fully understand how this videogame industry works. I just have opinions and thoughts and sometimes I put them down on e-paper here for a couple of people to read. But this is just plain confusing. Most videogames release a demo a few weeks prior to their shipping date so curious consumers can get a taste of what they’re selling and maybe–just maybe–decide that they’d really love to play the full experience.

Mass Effect 2 came out on January 26, 2010. The demo for the game hit Xbox Live this week. A-buhhhhhhh…

Right. Well, I somewhat enjoyed the first game and have been curious about what was changed for Mass Effect 2 so I downloaded the huge demo (I think it’s around 1.6 gigs) and…watched a lot of cinematic scenes for a bit. It opens like every episode of LOST, with a “Previously on…Mass Effect” as if this is some kind of high drama TV show that we’ve been watching for years. Our narrator tells us about Shepard and the things he/she did to better our galaxy. The beginning of this demo is basically the beginning of the actual game going off of Greg Noe’s first hour review. The Normandy gets blown to bits, Shepard dies, his DNA is recovered by the secretive Lazarus project, and he’s brought back to flesh through the miracle of science. And you thought you’d totally get to keep your level and hard-earned stats from the first game! Ha!

So, with a new Shepard, we can give him/her a new look. I choose to make him look very simian again, with a low brow and big pouty lips, plus an extremely bad complexion. Scars, pock-marked face, the whole thing. Dark hair and a chinstrap beard round him out perfectly. I was really surprised that the demo came with this as I fully expected them to just give us a static Shepard design to play with. After this, we see a scene with some scientists named Miranda and Wilson looking over Shepard as he suddenly wakes up. Drugs put him back down. The second time he wakes up, the entire base is under attack and he’s being ordered to get moving. Grab a pistol and some armor and then take cover behind some boxes; taking cover is very easy now with the press of a button. It feels natural and awesome at once.

The demo then shows me some stuff I already know, like how to fire my weapon and select a new one. These aren’t geth attacking us, but mechs on the fritz. Find some audio logs and listen to Miranda talk about the progress they made reconstructing me. The hacking mini-game is a bit different from Mass Effect, but not the worst thing in the world galaxy. I meet up with Jacob and Wilson and get a few answers to some burning questions, but we need to get to safety and find Miranda. Wilson believes she sabotaged everyone as the mechs were theirs and rewired to attack innocents. Hmm. I am a born-again Shepard so I don’t really know who I can trust at this point…

Well, for spoilers-sake, I learned that I can’t trust…Wilson. A shame, as that’s a great name. Miranda tells me a bit about her boss, the Illusive Man, and then we’re off this trashcan. Does it explode behind us like a good l’il cliche? Hmm, nope.

This section of the demo ends, and I’m told that everything I’ve done so far has been saved and can be readily used once I purchase the full game. All right. The demo will continue (yay!), but anything else will not be saved progress, and we’re also jumping ahead in time. Text on screen tells us that the Illusive Man has given us the quest to collect a ragtag team of the most elite and deadly characters around. Miranda, Jacob, and I are visiting a prison cell planet called Purgatory (wink wink) to collect a biotic named Jack. There’s a pretty tense scene in the beginning where a turian (I think that’s their race; it’s been some time, people) tells me I can’t bring weapons on-board. I convince him otherwise, and I’m glad I did. Turns out it’s a trap, and we’re doing a lot of fighting here. There’s some larger mechs that are harder to take down, and I eventually died after releasing all the prisoners from their cells in order to free Jack, who is not what we expected. I’m sure the demo goes on a little more from there, but at that point I was extremely tired and decided to call it a night. Might have to give the demo another swing later on as a female Shepard; I’m both surprised and pleased at how much is given to us and how smooth the shooting is. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get a little excited about Mass Effect 2 in the near future.

Blowing up and up and up in ‘Splosion Man

There’s a couple more great deals going on over at Xbox Live this week, and so I snagged ‘Splosion Man for 400 Microsoft Points. Yes, I’m using them up slowly and methodically, but I’d like to think I’m putting them to good use. Got Peggle and Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting as well, which I’ve enjoyed immensely and somewhat, respectively. Still need to blow my remaining 400 MP, but I’m not sure just yet. I might wait another week to see what new deals pop up…

But yeah, ‘Splosion Man. It’s a kooky game. You’re a dude that explodes. That’s just how you get around. Press A…and you ‘splode. Press X…and you ‘splode. I think you get it. Guess some scientists thought this would be a fun little experiment to play. Well, I think we showed them another thing:

Get Them Out of Our Schools (10G): Eliminate 10 Scientists and stop them from spreading their filthy lies.

So you use yourself as a self-detonating rocket to get around the levels. You can explode up to three times in a row before having to recharge your juices. The first few levels are rather simple, but they do an excellent job of teaching you some wall-jumping tricks and just how far ‘Splosion Man can leap. The main obstacles are the level pitfalls, with toxic fluid tanks below and closed off barriers. Getting around these is relatively easy to figure out, but still might take a few tries; thankfully, the game has frequent save checkpoints. I’ve only played about the first ten levels, and it seems like I have 40 more to go. Cool, cool.

Also, the sound design is phenomenal. Quirky, rock-n-roll tracks keep you moving through the levels, and ‘Splosion Man himself is just brimming with odd noises and bumbling mumbling. Love it. Reminds me a bit of the good ol’ days when main characters really had personalities that seemed to come out of the TV screen, such as Bubsy and Blasto and Earthworm Jim. Have not gotten to the song about donuts though that I read about many moons ago on the Interwebz, but I’m sure it’s fantastic as well.

Achievement-wise, it’s decidedly odd. There’s the usually “do X amount of times,” as well as one for beating the entire single-player game and collecting cake in each level. Then there’s these:

Master of Contrls (10G): Change the controls around in the “Controls” menu.

Get Over Yourselves (10G): Select “Credits” from the “Help & Options” menu and watch the whole thing.

Like I said…odd. Either way, exploding over and over again is right up my alley. I’m looking forward to it later.

Scott Pilgrim the videogame looks great, but I gotta wait

We’ve listened to some early live footage of Anamanaguchi playing music from the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World videogame. We’ve seen some still screenshots and a few animations here and there. But now we get to devour an actual gameplay trailer, which shows off just how great and fun this game is gonna be:

See? It’s gonna be great. Don’t bother arguing. I’m not in the mood, and you’ll just be wrong. Did you notice the Pac-Man graffiti art at around 54 seconds, as well as the word hamburger scribbled affectionately on the wall? I suspect there’s going to be a ton in-game jokes and nods, which is much appreciated. There might be another gameplay trailer on the Interwebz somewhere because I distinctively remember seeing Kupek written on a wall too; for those not in the know, Kupek is the name Scott Pilgrim mastermind Bryan Lee O’Malley records music under.

But yeah, it’s a four-player co-op Streets of Rage kind of side-scrolling brawler, and I’m totally down with that. The sprites look great, the sound is chippy and bitty, and I love seeing scenes and locations drawn straight from the book (rather than the movie). There’s just one problem.

Currently, it’s a PlayStation 3 timed release. That means, for some time–weeks, months, maybe a year–it’s only going to be available on the PlayStation 3. ::mega sad face::

Hopefully it’ll make its way to the Xbox 360 as soon as possible as it does look like a lot of fun, and I know it’s the kind of game better suited for Tara and I to play co-op. We’re very much invested in the books and the world, and in fact, our very first wedding gift has something to do with the final volume of O’Malley’s epic. Let’s all say a prayer to Young Neil that this gets released on the Xbox 360 real soon because I don’t want to have to buy a PlayStation 3 just to experience kicking a vegan’s butt.

The great escape plan

I’ve been having an extremely terrible week. There’s a lot of bad stuff happening right now in my life, none of which I want to speak about publicly though I do keeping asking this question of the great being above. Thankfully, there are ways I can escape these horrible thoughts in my mind, if only for a couple of hours, but it’s needed regardless. I’m talking about videogames, and you’re not surprised one bit.

So this is gonna be a, more or less, summary of my week with gaming. Not sure how exciting it’ll be for you to read, but it’s important for me because these are some of the things that have helped keep me sane while everything else falls apart.

Earlier this week I got to try out co-op in Borderlands with Greg Noe. This was a lot of fun, and now I see what I’ve been missing out on. He came into my game at level 50 (capped because of no DLC) and helped me climb from a level 34 to level 39 very quickly. Shockingly fast to be honest. Guess that’s what they call power leveling. We rushed through the main storyline missions and took down Sledge before calling it a night. We chatted and casually shot up skags and bandits, and though he handled most of the fighting I really didn’t mind as I still racked up experience points. Got a bunch of co-op Achievements as well, and I’m one away from getting all of them in Borderlands (minus the DLC ones naturally). Just gotta ping level 50, which I might save for (hopefully) another session of co-op with Greg!

I also spent some Microsoft Points, snagging namely Peggle and Street Fight II Hyper Fighting as of the moment. Still have 800 Points to go. I contemplated getting the recently remade Earthworm Jim HD, but after playing the trial version decided otherwise. As Jim, you can’t jump and shoot at the same time, nor can you jump up off of ropes, only down. These design choices have been there from the beginning, but I’ve been spoiled by much better platformers since then and can’t get past these kinds of hiccups.

Peggle is great fun, and I am now working my way through each challenge level; my favorite power-ups are the dragon’s bouncing fireball and the owl’s zen shot. A lot of the game relies on luck, but there’s also a serious amount of planning and preparation to put into each level.

As per Street Fighter II HF, I don’t have any fighters on my Xbox 360 so I figured why not get one of the classics. Even on a difficulty of two stars out of seven, the game seriously mopped the floor with me. Guess I need more practice, but it’s fun nonetheless and really brings me back to those mall arcades. However, Dhalsim’s level is atrocious. The elephants in the background do not stop making noise the entire time. I had to put it on mute. Yoga flame!

After getting stuck on an Act II mission in The Saboteur last night, I said “feck it” and just ran around blowing stuff up. In other words, taking out some more white dots from the map. I also ended up unlocking two Achievements around the same time: the one for blowing up 50 vehicles and the one for stealth killing 50 Nazis. Guess those two were neck and neck for awhile. Hopefully I can get past this mission real soon. An online guide suggests doing it undercover, but the problem is I get caught too soon each and every time. Not sure what I’m doing wrong or if there’s another way around it all. Will keep plugging at it; unlike GTA IV, dying during a mission doesn’t make you start all the way back across the city. So there’s no reason not to keep trying.

Right. I’m visiting home-home for the weekend so I’ll probably just bring my DS to distract me. Picross 3D puzzles and more Pokemon HeartGold to sift through. Other than that, Tara and I will most likely play the LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 demo together tonight, which I really think she’s going to love. We watched a dev diary video recently that showed off Mad-Eye Moody in LEGO form. He looks simply splendid. This world is so perfect for the LEGO build; I can’t stress that enough.

So yeah, that’s my week of escaping. It’s all I can do at the moment.

Battling the darkness with my Nintendo DS

Last night, after I got home from a grueling day, the power went out for around 30 minutes. The storm was mostly to blame. I listened to the rain for a bit, then strummed a few songs on the guitar, and then, magically, found my Nintendo DS in the darkness. I was actually trying to find my cell phone, but this worked out much better. After safely making it to my bed, I passed the next 20 minutes or so blissfully, doing puzzle after puzzle after puzzle in Picross 3D. That game is so simple yet at the same time equally hard and rewarding. Perfect for blackouts.

They should add this feature as a bullet point though on the Nintendo 3DS or whatever: Perfect for blackouts!

In fact, I was so immersed in my block-breaking that when the power did flicker back on, I was kind of annoyed. The lights made Picross 3D less colorful, and did not help make the 0s pop as well as before. And somehow, the music seemed lower. I’m sure it’s all in my head, but there really was something special about cozying up in the darkness with the Nintendo DS to really let the system shine.

For those curious, I’ve completed over 175 puzzes in Picross 3D at the moment, as well as downloaded like 30 more thanks to WiFi wizardry. I really can’t stress this enough, but this $20 game is going a long way.

Gift cards, and Microsoft Points, and bears! Oh, my!

I have a love/hate relationship with gift cards. Many people probably find them to be the greatest gift ever in that they can now go out and buy anything. I have the exact opposite problem; with a gift card, I can now go out and buy anything. That anything, in my mind, is really anything, an extremely broad selection that comprises books, movies, games, art supplies, clothes, food, and so on.

That said, I’ve had an Amazon gift card sitting in my desk drawer since last Christmas. You know, that holiday from six months yonder. Yeah, I’m just not good at spending those things, and I guess I was waiting for something to really grab my attention, but it hasn’t yet. So I instead used it to–and here comes the irony–to buy 1600 Microsoft Points (MSP) for Xbox Live. Yes, I used a gift card to essentially buy another gift card. Do you dare ask why?

Well, there’s a special deal going on this week to get Peggle at 50% off, meaning 400 Microsoft Points. This deal is only good for Gold members, which I just currently happen to be. I’ve always been interested in the colorful, bubbly addictive puzzle since I played the trial version, and the deal was too good to pass up.

But now I have a problem. I have 1200 MSP remaining, and just like I had trouble spending my Amazon gift card, I’m struggling to decide what to do with them. I could get three more 400 MSP games, or an 800 MSP and a 400 MSP combo, or I could buy some add-ons to games already in my collection (i.e., Borderlands, GTA IV, Mass Effect). I’m not really interested in wasting the points on TV shows, Avatar items, or silly things like themes and gamerpics. So, any ideas? I heard Braid is pretty good, currently priced at 800 MSP. I guess I could ultimately hold on to them and wait for something else to come out (will LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 have DLC? I doubt it), but then I’m just doing what I’ve always done with these things: procrastinating.

One thing I know is that I most certainly will not be buying the Midnight Show DLC for The Saboteur despite how much fun I’m having with the game. The comment at the end of The First Hour‘s review of the game seals the deal; I’m not playing The Saboteur for the nudity, I’m playing it to blow up Nazis and sabotage the bleep out of enemy headquarters.

But yeah. I need ideas for Xbox Live games. Remember, I have 1200 to spend. Please don’t suggest anything that is solely multiplayer as who knows how long I will keep my Gold account locked in. Thanks in advance! Phooey on you in advance too if you suggest nothing.

DEMO IMPRESSIONS: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4

If I wanted to be dramatic, I’d start this post off with something like, “I thought this day would never come!” But it did. I knew a few days ago that the Xbox 360 demo for LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 would be released soon, and all I had to do was wait, then download it, and then fall in love. Simple as that.

The demo comes in two parts. The first section opens up in a classroom setting with Professor Flitwick teaching his students how to perform the levitation charm Wingardium Leviosa. This is a pretty iconic scene in the movie/book as we really get a good sense of who is good at magic and who isn’t; in that vein, Ron is a total flop and I don’t suggest using him, but Hermione can pull off the spell with ease. We’re tasked with rescuing three students trapped up in the rafters, and using some spells to move items around (kind of like using the Force in LEGO Star Wars) to solve several puzzles, they are all quickly saved. Not much else to do except beat up some books so we’re off to the next scene…

…which involves Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Fang, and Hagrid! A demo after my own heart. See, Hagrid is my absolute favorite character in the books. We’re heading into the Forbidden Forest as punishment for sneaking around the castle after “lights out,” and as expected, then divided into two teams. Harry has to deal with a unicorn while Draco is more or less the wuss he’s always been. I got to control Ron, Hermione, Fang, and Hagrid, and this section really shows off a lot of gameplay.

Like in previous LEGO games, a lot of progression relies on using different characters and their abilities for specific purposes. What’s nice here is that, since a lot of the characters are wizards, instead of swapping weapons and people, you’ll be selecting new spells instead. At my disposal for the Forbidden Forest level were two spells: the previously learned Wingardium Leviosa and a spell for dealing with the local violent plant life that I can’t recall that name of. Fang can dig up stuff (and climb a ladder, which looked ridiculous), and Hagrid wields a crossbow, as well as his magical umbrella. Again, don’t bother using Weasley.

You destroy things, you collect studs, you solve puzzles, you collect a host of other items, and you move forward, putting to memory all the stuff you missed or couldn’t unlock yet. It’s a LEGO game, and it’s going to be good fun when it comes out. The Harry Potter world is seemingly a perfect fit for the formula, and I’m really curious about all the stuff not shown in the demo: class lessons, Diagon Alley, riding on broomsticks, co-op, and so on. The few cutscenes work well too, relying on mute characters and a previous knowledge of the plot to hit home some humorous moments.

But speaking of collecting, there’s going to be a lot to gather up. There’s four pieces of the Hogwarts crest to find in each level, as well as a student in peril, true wizard status, items that unlock special characters, studs galore, and gold bricks. Probably more, too. Definitely gonna keep one busy for a bit.

Ultimately, I’m really looking forward to LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 releasing at the end of June. And then visiting the actual castle in October.

Archiving the aliens finally

It took most of Saturday night and all of yesterday afternoon, as well the checking and re-checking and re-re-checking of online guides, but I did it. I actually did it. I searched high and low, far and wide, in and out, up and down…eh, you get what I mean. The point is I finally unlocked this in Fallout 3:

Alien Archivist (20G): Collected all Alien Captive Recordings

When I first went through Mothership Zeta during my initial play of the game, I missed a lot of stuff. I was more scared then to explore, afraid of what I might stumble across, whether it be a host of enemies I wasn’t prepared for or something else. So I more or less just did the missions as straightforward as possible, and once I was back on barren Earth I realized I definitely did not grab all the alien captive audio recordings. Oh well, I thought. Later, I teleported back to see if I could find them again, but many sections of the spaceship were now inaccessible. Ah, yes. One of those hiccups.

This time, however, I was prepared, and I had a plan (i.e., an online guide). Find the audio recordings. Find them hard, find them fast, find them first. So my second trip aboard the mothership was fairly perfunctory, but I was also surprised by some of the things I stumbled upon that I otherwise might not have found had I not gone looking into every crack and crevice. Like discovering the aliens’ bizarre fascination with the Giddyup Buttercup toy horses or seeing them standing around an old automobile looking rather perplexed or spawning mutant cows to watch them get obliterated by alien technology. I also found a unique kick-ass energy weapon, which I’d look up the name of, but I think the site I usually go to has viruses and so…I will just stay here. The Demolisher? The Disruptor? The Proton Pack? Hmm…

But yeah, I’m glad to see this finally unlocked. Now all I have left is to hit level 30 with an evil character (Samantha is currently level 23 so we got a ways to go), find all the steel ingots (ugh, gonna need a guide for that, too), and then hit all the level checkpoints with a neutral character. Those last ones are gonna be tough. While I absolutely love Fallout 3 and do consider it one of my favorite games, I just know it’s gonna be hard to go through it completely for a third time. Maybe I will find Dogmeat to spice things up a bit. Either way, creeping closer to a full Gamerscore…

For those curious, this is the guide I used to find all the alien audio captive recordings in Mothership Zeta. It is a little vague, which I liked, but tells you which ones are in which room and how many you should have at certain points. Hope this helps!


Peanuts characters and aerial dogfighting. It seems like an obvious and punny combination, right? Well, Snoopy Flying Ace, an Xbox Live Arcade game that is all about chaotic multiplayer and shooting down the Red Baron, puts it to the test.

Here’s the official game description:

“You can’t have aerial dogfighting without the dog! Join Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the Peanuts gang in the premier online flight shooter on Xbox LIVE Arcade, Snoopy Flying Ace. With simple flight controls and a hangar full of customizable planes and weapons, all you need are nerves of steel to climb the Leaderboards and become a Flying Ace! Snoopy Flying Ace takes addictive, fast-paced airborne combat to new heights, with fantastic solo and co-op challenges testing your skills against the Flying Circus of the dreaded Red Baron. Remember, it ain’t the size of the dog in the fight… it’s the size of the fight in the dog!”

The trail demo offers up a bunch of missions to play, as well as some online multiplayer. The first few are more or less tutorials: learning how to fly your plane, learning how to speed up and make sharp turns, learning the different weapons you have at your disposal, and learning how to hop to the ground to operate anti-aircraft gunnery. Then, after that, you’ll have your first big fight against Lucy and a swarm of goons as you’re set to protect a location with all you got.

I have to say, and I was really surprised here, but the controls are fantastically sharp. You use the left analog stick to steer and direct, and the right analog stick is for flipping upside-down or rolling left/right to avoid getting shot. It handles like a dream, which is a simile I’ve never really understood, but I will just say it simpler then: it handles really well. You’ll be swooping this way and that, firing off rockets and bullets, switching tactics on the fly (more puns!), and you won’t really get dizzy or ever feel out of control.

Plus, you’re doing all of this with Peanuts characters. I can’t stress that enough. They are adorable as they blow each other to smithereens. Take that, General Lucy! Pew pew pew!

I basically only did the single-player missions, as the online multiplayer kept kicking me out. I’m sure that’s fun, too, and probably the true selling point of Snoopy Flying Ace. For 800 Microsoft Bucks, it’s a solid entry. At least give the trial demo a try.

Smoking cigs and killing Nazis

The Saboteur is far from perfect. Far far far far far. That’s five fars for those not counting. It is littered with glitches and bad control schemes, suffers from unclear mission objectives at times, and fails graphically once France starts slipping back into color. But I can put that all aside because–and this is important here–the game is a lot of fun. And it’s more forgiving than Grand Theft Auto IV ever tried to be.

So yeah, here’s the summary so far. You’re Sean Devlin, an Irishman now living in Paris, France, who gets sucked into a plot to take down some Nazis. Revenge is the fire in his blood, and along the way he’ll meet a cultured cast of characters, as well as strengthen the resistance of the people to the Nazi regime. I’m not too far into the main missions yet so that’s kind of all I know at this point. Maybe he’ll meet Brad Pitt…I mean Lt. Aldo Raine at some point. No one can predict the future.

The main missions so far are of the usual open-world ilk. There’s one where you follow another car, but don’t get too close to it. There’s another that charges you with escorting a lady friend around. There’s one that puts you into the sniper role, handing out death from high above. A lot of the missions are just set before you with a generic objective: kill the Nazis, for instance. It’s up to you to figure out how to make the end happen. You can either be sneaky and go around the enemy base or charge right in, guns a-blazing. I don’t recommend the latter. While Sean can certainly handle guns and grenades and setting off timebombs, he’s a much stronger assassin. It might take an extra ten minutes or so, but sometimes it is safer to walk the long and slow road, creeping by, silencing those that need it.

But the best thing about The Saboteur, for me at least, is the ambient freeplay missions. These show up on your map as tiny white dots, indicating that something there is important. It might be a Nazi sniper tower you have to destroy or a lookout point (a la Assassin’s Creed) or even just a perfectly placed spot to do a wicked car jump. Either way, there are hundreds of these. Maybe thousands. Remember, I can’t count higher than five. Just check this image out, which is only a tiny part of the world map:

Yeaaaaaaaah. But what is so nice about this is that it caters to my completionist OCD and allows me to just pop into the game for thirty minutes, take out a few ambient freeplay missions, save, and shut down for the night, fully knowing that I at least accomplished something. That I whittled the number of white dots down a sliver.

There’s always something to do in The Saboteur. Going after perks, ambient freeplay missions, collecting cars, playing the game’s main missions, just exploring, smoking cigs, saving citizens. It kind of goes on and on.

That said, Sean, just like Niko, is hard to like. He curses a little too much and a little too dramatically; there was one comment he made about eating a nun’s arse. I don’t know. I cringed? Yes, I cringed. Then again, he’s easy to like because he kills Nazis. And we all dream about going back in time and doing that ourselves. Well, maybe I do. Can’t speak for you, silent reader.

But all in all, a fun game. Maybe even an underappreciated one. Will come back to that claim once I’m further through it.