Archive for the Reviews Category

Food Review #1: Health Potion, Chicken Battle, and A Surprise

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on February 15, 2009 by zolthanite

Today I went to Fry’s to pick up some solder, some wires for my breadboard, and… a health potion.  Curiosity made me part with almost $4 to try a 50mL an energy drink when I don’t even drink Red Bull.

Then on my way home, I thought to myself “Self, who has the better chicken sandwich on a value menu:  Jack-in-the-Box or McDonalds?”  I say on the value menu, because nothing beats Chick-Fil-A.  

Then, while swinging by McDonalds, I noticed they have sweet tea for a dollar.  A soda-sized, large sweet tea.  I’ve been stuck in this godforsaken west coast with no hint of Southern anything nearby.  Even the “homestyle cooking” out here is organic and comes no where close to Cracker Barrel.

Curiosity is going to get me killed one of these days.

So without further ado, the results of the Trials Three:

Health Potion

I only took a sip, as I wasn’t trying to burn any midnight oil or have a heart attack.  Basically, it tastes like a thin, cherry-flavored cough syrup.  It’s not…  bad.  But it certainly isn’t something you’d drink for the taste.

Chicken Battle

The big one.  So break it down by part, since they are both mayo, lettuce, and chicken.

Bun:  The McChicken has a smaller bun.  They are both exactly the same otherwise though, which is really odd (Tie)

Mayo:  McChicken has a glob of mayo, since the bun is so small.  The Sandwich seems to have more mayo, but it’s spread out over a larger area because the bun is larger.  So unless you’re the kind of person who loves mayo, Sandwich is the better of the two because you don’t eat as much per bite.  It’s actually a condiment.  (Winner: JB)

Lettuce: Sorry McChicken, but a few shreads of lettuce has nothing on an actual leaf of lettuce folded over.  (Winner: JB)

Chicken:  The part that matters: The McChicken patty I had vs. the Sandwich was superior in every way.  It was bigger, thicker, better seasoned to taste like… something (Neither taste like chicken, let’s be honest).  And because the Sandwich outclasses the McChicken is every other size category, it makes up a higher percent volume of the sandwich. (Winner: McD)

Seriously though, I’d eat a Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich over these two things any day of the week.  And I ate two completely worthless sandwiches in comparison.  (Loser: Me)

Sweet Tea

I really hate saying this, but…

McDonald’s actually got it right.  The tea was Southern Sweet.  Not slightly, not unsweet, not Splenda.  Sugar, sugar, and more sugar.  Amen to you golden arches, amen.

 

Back to colossi.  I’m on… #14?  Maybe?

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Choose Your Own Effect

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by zolthanite

I started up Mass Effect completely enamored and thrilled to be alive.  By the end of the game, I wasn’t nearly as high on space life, but it was still a good game.  However, the hype machine and the players gushing “incited me to rage” as it were.  This is saying something because this and Bioshock were the first games I had ever taken on solo on a 360 before, as I didn’t own one at the time because of my pure hatred of everything Microsoft (I still don’t have a Gold membership to XBL.  I’ll let someone else pay for that).  It also didn’t help that I was playing this on a 40+” CRT TV that was fuzzing out on the edges, preventing me from reading any relevant info like the number of grenades I had.  So, onward and upward.

Legitimate Reviews:

Kotaku: Honestly, I can’t call this a review because it only addresses the dialogue system at length.  Don’t get me wrong, the dialogue system AND the quality of your choices is the best I have ever seen outside of Black Isle Studios, and I commend them for it.  But there’s a reason why.

Zero Punctuation: Yahztee basically shares my biggest issues with the game and doesn’t elaborate on them at all, instead opting to talk about the skull-crushing amount of text.  I expect a game to, you know, be a game.  The actual “game” portions of the experience are half-assed and half-baked, which was disappointing to me.

Personal Thoughts

To understand where I’m coming from, two things to note:

  1. I love to read.  No really.  I don’t get a chance to do it often, but I’ve plowed through the entire Harry Potter series, the memoirs of Joseph Wilson and Alan Greenspan, and read The Long Halloween and The Dark Knight Returns purely to see where the origins of the latest Batman came from.  I’m equal opportunity, and a lack of books is barely replaced with obsessively  reading news sites and blogs.
  2. The first Mass Effect novel came out a few months before the game came out, with the author for the book serving as lead writer for the game.  

Unlike the Metal Gears, where the plot is fairly complicated so there’s a lot of exposition and cutscenes, Mass Effect has a simple plot with a lot of atmosphere to understand.  Playing Mass Effect is a a weird experience for someone who reads books regularly (especially sci-fi) because, for the most part, it feels like I’m having a 400-page book being read to me all of the time.  What was weird was I felt this way before I found out the novel actually existed.  Most of the dialogue you don’t need, but then you lack basic context for what is going on in the world around you and why you should care (The best example is Wrex, because the Krogan genophage is a key event you really need to know about, but I don’t remember how much of that comes up without taking the time to talk to him between missions).  The key climactic moments in the game were beautifully done, however, and Mass Effect does a much better at interactive storytelling than the Metal Gear Solid series.  But what absolutely kills it is the game itself.  The load screens, interfaces, everything that make it a game, felt so ham-handed and unsatisfying it eventually broke the enjoyment I had for what was otherwise a great game.

Instead of releasing a series of novels (There’s currently two out, but I don’t know where the second falls chronologically), Mass Effect really should have been broken into two games.  The first game would effectively “create” Shepard up until the point where the player actually becomes a member of SPECTRE, whereas the second would focus on the “Saren Conflict” and the DLC missions.  The sheer variety in deciding your character’s backstory at the very beginning implies there is a lot more room to have those details fleshed out in the course of a CRPG-like campaign, which would really give a shot of player attachment right into the arm.  The other bonus, possibly the more important one, is that in serving as a soldier, you are effectively experiencing the world at large directly, without the need for plot-driving set pieces for the epic story.  

Unlike  Metal Gear, which has an already-supplied world (Modern politics) with a few footnotes for molding the planet, Mass Effect starts you fresh.  So from a narrator’s perspective, you have to understand the entire world around you before you can create an effective story in that world.  Otherwise, the sheer magnitude of scope is burdensome on the storyteller, and crushing to the reader.  The Simarillion could never be ingrained into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Mass Effect is determined to do just that through the creative use of optional dialogue and logs.

Added bonus if BioWare had a way to import the story and choices from Part I into Part II.  That would be incredibly sexy.

My Prior Review

So after I  finished the game, I made this post on my local gaming community forum.  Like I said “incited rage”.  As an added note to this, I hear the PC port made a much better use of the controls, which seems to be standard for them given the existence of Jade Empire Special Edition.  Shamus Young also made two Stolen Pixels comics, one of which I’m adding to the appropriate places in my otherwise link-free rant.  

I have no clue about the problems I had with loading though, which I surprisingly didn’t seem to address.  The short of it is, the middle of the galaxy map and the Normandy were two areas where there shouldn’t be load times, because they are extremely small, localized areas.  The loading hiccups every time I went to the lower bay for supplies and selecting systems to travel to drove me absolutely insane.  Surprisingly, I didn’t hate the elevators at all.:

===========

My initial impression after about 5 hours was “Oh my god. A non-JRPG that I actually enjoy. Sweet Jesus this will be great”. I just finished the game after about 20 hours of playing, much to [my brother’s] dismay as the 360 is the only point of entertainment in the house.

Seriously guys, put your pants back on. Yes it’s a great game, but for the love of god it isn’t [Extreme statement better left unsaid].

Things that are well done:
– Graphics, even on my non HD TV
– Dialogue
– Storyline progression
– Character development

That being said, Mass Effect seems more like a game that was designed to tell a story, not be a quality video game, and that is the single reason why I don’t think this is “Game of the fuckin’ year!!!111” or any of the other extreme awards designed for it. It’s a good game, don’t get me wrong, but in the end I really feel like I spent $50k on a Mustang or Vette as opposed to a 7-series BMW or a high-end Mercedes. Sure the exterior is completely sexy, and way more extravagant than the subtle Germans, and will make most people wet their pants. But the love of the whole isn’t there and I’m stuck with substandard internal systems and lacking all of the random things I never knew I needed like programmable seat positioning and auto-adjusting wipers and headlamps.

Miscellaneous
—————-

The Mako exploration, after a certain point, is the exploration equivalent of grind. I began to hate doing any of the non-storyline planets with the Mako purely because I hate trying to figure out how to climb out of a series of sheer wall faces because of the general ambiguity of the planet surfaces when you need to get from point A to point B on some of the planets. If there was more squad combat, throughout the game, on the level of the last mission as opposed to a series of short confrontations where I end up one-shotted by rockets on occassion, and less Mako nonsense, the game would have been way better.

The autosave feature is fairly silly. It only triggers in the most extreme situations, but for things that are pre-cutscene initiatives, that really should be able to function during the scene itself without locking down the whole system. But this, along with the random “loading” is a fairly minor gripe compared to the two things that really annoy me.

I don’t get why the galaxy map has to load at each system junction like that. It’s kind of annoying, because there’s nothing graphically crazy going on, it’s just dropping another tier of detail.

Controls
———-
The control system is decent, but it could have been way better. For starters, controlling anything more than my Infiltrator’s own biotic powers is completely not worth the effort. On top of that, the fact battle has to pause to use the abilities kinda kills the fun of doing the real-time fire fights. For the way the combat was designed, they should have used a PSO-like system that would turn RB into a shift button of sorts, remapping at least two of the color buttons custom abilities.

Grenades are completely annoying, as they are not only weird to come by, but the button to use them is completely inconvenient. The fact you have to reach over to use them makes them extremely hard to aim well, and I would imagine a liability at times. It would have been much better to map the button to X when your weapon is drawn, as the button is completely unused otherwise. That way I might actually be able to lead running targets and hit things. You know, in case I don’t need to shoot to kill.

Menus and Inventory
———————–
What the fuck.

Seriously, this is an RPG. A RP fucking G. If you’re not spending your time in dialogue or combat, you have to mess with your inventory and menus. And this game is written as if the concept is completely novel. I can’t sort anything by any parameter, as it would seem like the only thing it cares about is tier. Shit, even the NES RPGs had manual sorting abilities.

Want to sell enough Cryorounds so you have just enough to cover a weapon or two per character for situational use? Tough shit, you have to sort through every single tier of mod, weapon, armor, ad amplifiers, starting from tier 1, because the sell menu won’t let me sort by mods so could at least lessen the amount of garbage I have to travel through.

Want to go to the shop in the Normandy and buy gear for your squad? Tough shit! Unless you’ve memorized the details on your squad’s weapons and armor, you have exactly zero way of knowing what anything your crew is wearing because they are not part of your team. Instead, you have to go to the locker, and figure it out. And god help you if you forgot what weapons and armor your crew is skilled in, because then you have to check your squad menu. Which you can only do when you are deployed.

And why the hell is the “Non-human armors”, “Unique items”, and “Standard items” subsets for shop items accessible only through the initial dialogue? Why isn’t it a sub menu in the shopping screen itself? Why do I have to cancel out of everything, reinitiate the dialogue sequence, and let the game reload inventories just because I want to see everything the guy has to offer? 

—–

What really chaps my ass is that for all of the attention to detail, to subtle eye motions when Shepard is making a decision, the blinking, and responses and acting in every single aspect of what this game is, they didn’t put anywhere near the same amount of work in the actual interface of the game. The stuff I have issue with is completely textbook stuff that has been done in so many damn games before it it’s not even funny, and they boned it.

This game isn’t a 9.5 or a 9. This is a solid 8. It’s an amazingly epic story, but it is a fairly simple one by RPG standards, and the ending is way better than Bioshock (Seriously, that was completely anti-climactic and completely contrived). But Bioshock is still the better of the two games, even if given the choice I would end up playing this again over Bioshock.

Reviews: A Preliminary

Posted in Reviews with tags on February 4, 2009 by zolthanite

I’m going to be writing some fairly detailed and, well… harsh reviews from time to time.  So to put my biases purely on the table, here they are in no particular order:

  • I have never played a console FPS I fell in love with.  I truly am a mouse/WSAD person, and the only exception is Resident Evil 4 on the Wii because that is as close to a mouse as a console controller will get for some time.  I don’t touch RTS for the same reason.
  • Certain genres have certain key things that have to not suck for the game to be considered worthwhile.  Example: If you call a game an RPG and half-ass the story, I will consider the entire game an abject failure.  It’s the one thing you need to get right.  How do you mess that up?
  • I am a stickler for controls.  If I can’t remap to something conventional, and you decide to create “the next best control scheme” as a result, I’ll probably be upset.
  • As a long-time console and PC gamer, huge load times bother me.  A lot.
  • There are very few genres I don’t play, if at all.  But, as a result, I don’t excel at anything.  So the difficulty curve is a fairly noticeable thing for me.  It also means I don’t get anal about frame-counting and power gamer things.  You know, because I have a life.
  • Sequels can, and should, be judged on their own merits as well as their predecessors.  If you break something that worked before, you should be called out on it (Deus Ex is the fabled example, although I have yet to play the sequel).

Lastly, I have a feeling that all too often we ignore the PR and hype campaigns in the run up to a game’s launch.  Fallout 3, because it was so high profile, was filled with a lot of utter nonsense that no one ever addressed in the gaming media.  So as I go back through the games, I’ll go back and dig for any gems of post-release WTF-dom for the games that I didn’t follow with anticipation and horror.