Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Portal 2 Review

The original Portal was a landmark game. It seemingly came out of nowhere and started as just a side project to see just what the Source Engine was capable of. It came out as a tie in to the Half-Life 2 anthology "The Orange Box".

Shortly after releasing though, it became a phenomenon and topped many game of the year lists for 2007. The song "Still Alive" was all over YouTube and "the cake is a lie" became both an internet meme and a statement in the overall gamer dictionary and GLaDOS topped several video game villain lists.

Fast forward 4 years later to now.

The eagerly awaited sequel has come out and does it live up to the hype or is it another disappointment?

I tell you this now, eager readers, you must play this game. I'm serious, stop reading this and find a way to obtain a copy to play, hopefully through legitimate means.

This game, as of now, is my favorite game to come out this year, possibly one of my favorite games to come out in a long time.

We'll start at the most important element in any game, gameplay. How does Portal 2 play?

Short answer: If you played Portal, then absolutely nothing has changed in Portal 2. The controls are the same, the overall premise is about the same, you maneuver from room to room trying to get from Point A to Point B using your loyal Portal Gun and in most cases the environment itself.

Where it succeeds here, though, is in its execution. The puzzles are brilliantly tricky, not brain wracking, but not so simple you blow through them effortlessly. I only had one instance where I had to look for the solution, but most of the time I'd study a puzzle before I facepalmed because the exact solution was in front of me the whole time.

The whole gameplay experience is framed by a hilarious and extremely well-written story that puts most other big budget games to shame. Stephen Merchant and Ellen McLain are superb in their roles of Wheatly and GLaDOS, respectively. Wheatly is a new AI you encounter as an ally near the very beginning of the game and accompanies you as you go through the now degrading Aperature Science Facility.
However, as the song says, GLaDOS is still alive and you'll find yourself fighting for your survival in both the rebuilt Aperture Labs and descend to the very guts of the facility.

There'll be no spoilers here, but know here and now that you will eagerly solve puzzle after puzzle if only to reach the next story point.

Helping to tell the story are Portal 2's gorgeous graphics. Between the lighting and environments, there's always something to see and look at. From small signs informing you that robots are superior to humans to the rays of sunlight streaming through the crushed and cracked ceilings of Aperture Science, you'll find moments you just stop and look around, studying all aspects of the world around you.

As of this writing, I have not yet participated in the Co-Op mode of the game, so this review excludes that aspect. I will be putting up a review of that portion of the game as soon as I am able to play through it.

All in all, Portal 2 is not only a great game, but a great experience. Any gamer with any dignity needs to play this game and appreciate the great care and love that the developers poured into this product.

If I had to say one bad thing about this otherwise terrific game, it's that the loading screens are frequent and very noticeable, but you'll learn to forgive them knowing that each loading screen will bring you to yet another fun and intellectual experience.

This game gets a perfect 10 from me and I highly recommend it to anyone. I have no doubt we'll see a Portal 3 eventually, but as of this moment, Valve is near the very top of my personal developer hierarchy. Portal 2 is a value we as gamers cannot allow to pass.

So, until next time, peeps, game on and take care.

Note: Photos are taken from www.gamespot.com's Portal 2 section.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A State of Gaming Bliss

The last few years have been kind of rough on gamers, with sporadic good releases and a majority of lackluster disappointments (I'm looking at you, Fable 3). Last year, for all of it's good releases (Red Dead Redemption) it had it's share of terrible disappointments (again, Fable 3, Fallout New Vegas, Star Trek Online).

This year, however, has me thinking that we gamers will be in a particularly awesome state by the various 2011 video game awards ceremonies. The start of the year saw Shogun 2: Total War and Dragon Age 2 (Which I loved. I'll address that topic in a later post.) a long with a good handful of independently developed games (Something else I'll talk about later) such as Atomic Zombie Smasher and Fate of the World.

I've also given Rift another go and found a few classes with which I can actually kill things and is not an utter bore to play. Of course, I have yet to get a character over level 10, but that's more of a personal problem...

And while New Vegas was a disappointment at launch, it's been pretty well patched up and is now fun. Especially on PC. I get Bioware and Bethesda games on PC because they tend to be moddable, especially Bethesda games. I have a few great mods in NV now that include a complete revamp of the ammo and weapons system which, while making you somewhat overpowered, makes the game far more enjoyable when you're pwning bandits with a heavily modified M-14 or a tweaked out H&K 10mm. I just found a Desert Eagle I can't wait to use.

Now Bioware just has to release modding tools for Dragon Age 2 and I think that'll help convince the non-believers. The only thing I've been able to find on the subject is this, from an article on Softpedia from August 2010:

“The tools we're using to make Dragon Age 2 are very, very close to the tools you guys have used to make your mods for DA:O. They're not identical, as we've made a few in-house improvements, but they're almost identical. As such, there isn't a new toolset to release, per se. While we won't be releasing a toolset update in tandem with Dragon Age 2, we ARE investigating what it would take to update the community toolset to match ours, along with providing DA2 content in the future.”
Doing a bit more research, it seems to be true as in typical Bioware community fashion, they're already releasing mods for it. But I digress from the original topic.

On top of those, I've also currently got Crysis 2 and Lego Star Wars 3 installed and waiting to be finished.

And we're about to swing into high gear. World of Tanks, a free to play tank MMO that (along with Lord of the Rings Online) demonstrates what can work with the free to play model that so many other games fail at, has gone live as of today. I got in at the tail end of Beta and I was very surprised at the gameplay. It was very strategic, as in, if you try to Lone Wolf it, you'll probably suffer an explosive death. It's all about positioning and maneuvering. For a free to play game, it's obvious the developers put a lot of time and effort into the balance and gameplay mechanics.

Coming soon we also have Portal 2. A friend of mine and I are eagerly waiting to dive into the co-op mode of that. I absolutely loved the original Portal and considering that was originally intended as a college project/mod, I can't wait to see what the team pulls of with a full-length development time and financial backing from Valve itself.

Also for the first time in my gaming career, I'm actually finding myself excited for a Mortal Kombat game. The new one coming out seems to be developed with an immense amount of care for the "hardcore" MK crowd while working to streamline it for those of us who have never quite wrapped our heads around the 30-button combinations just to pull off an uber kick.

And then there's even more, The Old Republic, Batman: Arkham City, Diablo III, Rush, Elder Scrolls V and probably a whole heck of a lot more that I'm forgetting.

But frankly, I have high hopes that this year will be a great year for gamers. Right now is a great state for us and hopefully developers will realize that we much prefer playing good, well-designed games than whatever pre-made piece of crap they can toot out. I'm looking at you Call of Duty: Black Ops.

And if it isn't, I can certainly assure you you'll hear it here.

Until then, game on and take care.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Power of Choice (With MMOs)

I've done some reflecting on my Rift review and while I still fully stand by my assessment for the game as a whole, I wanted to express in more detail why I see something like Rift running alongside WoW to be a boon to both games along with any games that come out after.

Anyone who understands basic business knows about the importance of competition. Without it, those who currently control the market have free reign to adjust their prices and products to whatever their hearts desire. Wal-Mart tended to operate like that until Target finally started to give them a run for their money. Electronic Arts was loathed by everyone as THE evil gaming publisher until Activision came along and gave them someone to actually compete against.

Thus it is my hope that Rift's success will punt WoW's Developers into better action to keep their own MMO alive, kicking and improving in quality. As they do that, I can see Trion and Rift adding to their own game to keep it moving and competitive. With these two moving like that, it should punt Bioware into action to give us The Old Republic as a winning game to stand up to both of these current products, not to mention Arenanet and Guild Wars 2.

I'm not sure how my tone was interpreted in the Rift review, but I meant it as honest praise. Rift's built on WoW while simultaneously working to make their own way. It's an example for other developers to follow.

The biggest problem with the majority of release MMOs is that they either do one of two things, either they cut the cloth too close to WoW and fail to attract the playerbase needed to continue the game, i.e. Warhammer Online; or they try something so drastically different that it utterly fails in execution, i.e. Star Trek Online or All Points Bulletin.

Rift cut the cloth close enough to WoW that the concepts and gameplay are completely familiar while simultaneously setting themselves apart. As I said in the review, it's a lateral step for MMOs, however it'll lend itself well to the overall evolution of MMOs by giving a new branch of inspiration for future developers.

So what does this ultimately mean for we humble gamers?


Indeed, a concept extremely old but still important to our culture as gamers. The ability to have more than one MMO to choose from is outstanding. And more importantly, because there's so many out there, it makes putting out a quality product all the more important.

Let's say there's now real competition in the fantasy MMO department between WoW and Rift, that means the fantasy MMO market is fairly sewn up right now. That just means that Guild Wars 2 will have to shape up and put on its best suit if it has any intentions at all to get a piece of the market. As it was so painfully demonstrated by Final Fantasy 14, it is extremely easy to crash and burn an incompetently put together MMO.

Choice also lends itself to what I call the "Darwinian MMO Progression". If an MMO comes out that you don't like, simply don't play it. If it comes out terrible, don't play it. Many, many MMOs have come and gone over the years, the vast majority of them becoming footnotes in gaming history. But the pursuit of the brass ring of player base domination is becoming what drives MMO developers.

Although what drives MMO publishers is the pursuit of the almighty dollar, but that's another topic. Even then, recent developments have shown that even big money-backed projects can completely collapse.

What it ultimately comes down to, though, is play what you want, really. Rift players, don't look down on WoW players for playing WoW. WoW players, don't get angry at Rift players or angry at Trion, play WoW. As for everyone else, keep playing the games, keep lighting up the forums with INTELLIGENT debate, I'm looking at you stupid whiny posts, and make the Devs put out the best possible product they can.

If we don't who will?

Game on and take care.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Casual vs Hardcore...lolwut?

In my MMO travels, specificially in my World of Warcraft playing, one of the most common debates I see plastered on every story comment section, response to developer post and singular incoherent ranty post is the Casual vs Hardcore debate.

I consider this debate my mortal enemy on par with the PC vs Console debate.

Don't get me wrong, I debate some pretty silly things sometimes, but the problem with arguing something like this is that there really is no right answer, especially since everyone involved in the debate have varying definitions for what each word means.

In the MMO world, I've seen that the "casual" label tends to be placed upon people who don't play games in a "challenging" way or don't dedicate time to them. The person who logs on for only an hour or so a day would be a "casual". Those considering themselves "hardcore" tend to look down upon "casual" players as those players who don't deserve certain things in-game. They also blame the "casuals" when games are changed or altered to make them more accessable.

For the record, streamlining/making games more accessable does not equal dumbing down, but I'll get to that in a later posting.

On the other side of the aisle, "casuals" tend to look at "hardcore" people as overbearing perfectionists whose sole life revolves around the pinpoint execution of in-game activities, be it Raiding or PvP. To them, the "hardcore" players are the reason they can't access things they want to access, or even worse, believe that they are entitled to access.

The main problem with these two sides of the argument is that they look at the extreme stereotypes of their respective opponents as the norm. When a certain selection of gear is made available to a larger selection of people, "hardcore"s call foul and claim pandering. When things are made more challenging or harder to access to the general gaming population, "casuals" call foul and say it's the "hardcore"s' faults.

In all honesty, the way I see it is basically this, the true definitition of casual when referring to MMOs is someone who doesn't schedule their lives around said MMO, hardcore people do.

For example, do you have a scheduled  raid night two or three times a week that you get to? Congratulations, you're technically hardcore! Do you only really have an hour or so a day to play and a bit more on weekends? Congratulations, you're technically a casual.

What about everyone else? Congratulations, you're a regular gamer. Which I believe makes up a far larger portion of the MMO community than the vocal minority (the ones on all sides of various arguments on various game message boards screaming "the end is nigh!") would like us to believe.
So, if you're a casual, are you entitled to see all of the content that hardcore players are? No, I don't believe so. Harder content is there for people who want to dedicate the time and energy to working their way up it. Does this give the hardcore people a right to complain when things eventually evolve to a point where it's accessable to those casual players? No.

I really see it as a case of "old man syndrome". The mindset is, "OMG, I had to work to get there and now it's easier for them! Blasted kids with your Justin Bieber albums!" Congratulations, you actually accomplished something with your time. Now get over it and move on to the next challenge.

And if you're a casual player, don't feel entitled to having access to every single corner of the game. Yes, you pay a monthly fee too. But if the game was accessable to everyone equally, regardless of time spent playing or difficulty, you'd have a flat plateau of boredom.

Face it people, games have to be challenging or they're not games. Period. Everyone's definition of challenging is different, I understand this, but if you want to feel like you accomplished something you have to actually work for it. It's called life.

"But I play games to escape real life! I don't want to have to work!"

Then don't! There's plenty to do in MMOs that doesn't involve working. RP with other characters, talk, interact, craft, do those things. But don't feel like you're entitled to every inch of a game simply because you pay. It's like paying the cover charge for a club and then complaining that you can't get into the VIP lounge too.

And hardcores, don't think I've forgotten you. Get your nose out of the air, you're not a superior individual simply because you're better at a game. And if portions of the game are made more accessable, don't start ranting and raving because frankly, there's not much you can do and screaming won't help. Just accept it and look forward to a new challenge.

So, what does this all boil down to?

Casuals, enjoy the game.

Hardcores, enjoy the game.

Everyone else, keep ghosting the forums and laughing at the chaos caused by the above two groups and enjoy the game.

Agree? Disagree? E-mail me or leave a comment and I'll repond here .

I'm N'Eligahn, the Bullheaded Gamer, giving you my opinion whether you want it or not.

Game on and take care.