Thursday, August 31, 2006

In this week's Phoenix

In a bit of a departure from the usual, this week I have a roundup of web games based on TV shows. It's interesting, I guess.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Dead Rising seems to have a tractor beam-like hold on me, which may be due to the massive praise I keep seeing heaped upon it by another, better blogger. While I can't argue the validity of any of the substantive points Bill Harris makes, I feel like the experience I'm having with the game could not be any more different. Partly, it's just a matter of taste. In general, I like a tighter, more linear game than you get with Dead Rising. In this case, though, I'm not sure that that's what bothers me. Instead, it seems like the unorthodox design choices that Capcom made, which Harris praises so highly, keep coming back to bite me in the worst way.

Of course, it all comes back to the save system. The first several times I tried the game, my biggest problem was forgetting to save. I'd power through boss battles, find badass weapons, level up, and then lose it all. You can always restart the game with your stats saved, which is a cool feature, but the fact that you have to restart the game several times in order to make any meaningful progress is ludicrous. I've restarted four or five times by now because I keep running into dead ends.

The latest: after defeating Adam the clown, I started to escort a guy who knew a shortcut back to the maintenance room. Since I had one bar of health left, I ran to the nearest save point I could find. My save happened to coincide with the guy's death, so there was no way I could save him. Maybe I still could have found the route he was going to show me, but still being so low on health I decided to make a run for a nearby grocery store. Finally I made it, saved again near there, and saw that I was close to a gun store. I reached the gun store again low on health. As soon as I walked in, there was a cutscene that showed me with an ally I had never seen before. Obviously I had jumped way ahead in the storyline. My ally and I were both murdered in the course of about five seconds.

What are my options now? My save point has me so far up shit creek that I likely have no chance to succeed in the current game. I've stumbled into a portion of the game that I'm not nearly powerful enough to survive. I'm seeing cutscenes that make no sense in the context of what else I've already seen. The game is so open and offers so many different ways to play that you can actually play it wrong. All I can do is start over. And that, ironically, is not giving me the choice to play it my way.

In the final analysis, I don't see what is gained by the system Capcom went with that would have been lost with a more traditional system. I'd argue that allowing multiple saves provides more of an incentive to explore and to try new things, because you know you won't be penalized so harshly for making a mistake. Would Dead Rising be less tense if you had that escape hatch? I'm not sure. It could be. But it would also be a lot more fun.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Texas Hold 'Em

Just like everyone else with an Xbox 360, I imagine, I downloaded Texas Hold 'Em. It's free, of course, and we like free things. The game is available until Friday to anyone with a Live account, and thereafter will cost 800 Microsoft points. What's Microsoft playing at here, I wonder? I haven't read their strategy for this game anywhere -- and that statement should not be construed to mean that I've even looked -- but I have a theory. In the game, you have a finite bankroll. You cannot simply restack your chips for online play (nor, does it seem like, for single-player mode).

My guess is that Microsoft is happily giving away the game for free, and plans to make people purchase more chips when they run out. If this is the case, it's hard to see how this can be distinguished from online play through sites like Party Poker and Poker Stars. No, it's not "real" money, but it's only a few degrees of separation from it. You buy Microsoft points with actual money, then use MS points to buy fake money? I hope not.

(The closest I could get to clarification in the press release was this: "Your virtual bankroll is tied to your gamertag and keeps a running tally of your chip count. If you lose all of your chips in a poker game, you'll have to play lower stakes buy-in games to make back your stack and earn your way to the big tables." If I were a real journalist, I would call Microsoft and ask what the deal is.)

Dirge of Cerberus

The full review.

One thing I didn't make clear in the review is that there's no gauge or meter for the limit break. You just acquire them as you would any other item, by picking them up off the ground. It's ridiculous. But then, so is the whole game.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

One-minute game reviews

There's probably no reason to spend significant time or effort talking about games everyone else has played already, so I figured I'd sum up the games I've been playing in just a sentence or two.

Oblivion: A game that gives you as many options as you'd have in real life turns out to be just as boring as real life.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence: For Hideo Kojima, video games peaked with Dragon's Lair.

Lumines: There is at least one reason to own a PSP.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII: Video games finally have their answer to Joanie Loves Chachi.

Actually, that Dirge of Cerberus line was in the review I filed with the Phoenix for this week. I'll provide a link when it goes up.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I take it back

I keep getting revved up to go back to Dead Rising, convinced that this time I've got it all figured out. Then I find myself turning the system off in disgust after half an hour or so. I just don't have the temperament for it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dead Rising

The review.

I think there's much more to be said about Dead Rising. I often feel like I need more time with a game to fully get it, but with this game I feel like I need weeks. I plan to go back to it. We'll see if a deeper understanding leads to a deeper appreciation. For now, though, what the fuck is with that save system?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I play games

Then I write about them.

I keep meaning to post some actual content. My intentions are good.