Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

November 24, 2005

One broken Xbox, medium Rare...

By now you've probably been caught in the middle of some Xbox 360 buzz about it's diseased guts and the craptastic Perfect Dark Zero. Reviews have been pouring in for Rare's highly anticipated killer app, PDZ. Whats funny about this high ratio of high scoring reviews, is that it's unusually so. For the most part, every review tears the single player apart...shreds into strips of scrap paper, boils it and feeds to the dogs. PDZ suffers from "the same exact enemey 100 times" disorder, renders characters via injection molded Barbie and Ken templates, and has textures that are almost next-gen, but not really there - and I'm of course citing these reviews here, not my own experience. Some reviewers construe the "dodge for cover" and lack of jump constricting and limiting. The flip side to that coin is that the online co-op and multiplayer options have gamers gleefully smiling and raising their controller grasping fists in the air. Yet, despite a piece of shit single player campaign, most reviewers are scoring the game high - and even extremely high - simply because the multiplayer is so great. Okay, so multiplayer is great...that's incredible, I'm happy for you. But what about those non-online, non-multiplayer kind of people? Would it not stand to reason that if every facet of your game, especially the primary single player campaign, are not up to snuff, that the game should not be scored well? If half of your game is a torrential shit storm and the other half an ocean of warm, delicious, gooey chocolate...does that not put the overall product somewhere in the middle?

It would seem reviewers are taking for granted that they can actually play online. They mistakingly forget about the single player campaign in lieu of the multiplayer, which is down right wrong. If the single player were great, but the multiplayer
"shit faced", you can bet your bottom dollar the reviews rolling in would be at best slightly above average. I take pride in being part of that niche species of gamer that actually read the words accompanying the shiny score in the top corner...and I'm not impressed. I'm reading reviews that explicitally call the single player version of Perfect Dark Zero sub-par and dreadfully disappointing...yet I'm witnessing scores of 9.0+, because it features some extravagant fluff mode, that is almost standard with every game anyway. This same phenomenon occured with the dawning of Halo 2, and it's stellar online mode. Despite an obviously unfinished and unpolish single player experience, the online was great...and some how warranted scores of anywhere from 9.5 - 10. This perplexes me, and has me wondering if the single player experiences of these games were really as good as their multiplayer counterparts, would reviewers be so inclined as to slap an "11/10" approval stamp on the title, breaking all laws of mathematics, setting new precedent in the review community?

To say I don't have some journalistic discourse with these people reviewing the game would be a lie. I do, and quite a lot. Time and time again, I find people like Greg Kasavin of Gamespot and Hillary Goldstein and Doug Perry of IGN Xbox to be the biggest bull-shitters in this industry. Who are they kidding? These people fall victim to hype far too often, and really do taint what could be great publications. with contradictory reviews and numerical scores that just don't click with the written word. (I will however only point out IGN Xbox. Matt Cassamassima, Jeremy Dunham, Ivan Sulic and Craig Harris of IGN Cube, Ps2, PSP, and DS respectively run their channels with the prestige and videogaming honour they should. However the entirety of Gamespot is still a steaming pile of excriment.) I'd hope that in a few years people will see that this idea of multiplayer trumping single player is a dated and erroneous practice; sure it's great, but grade the game, not just what you deem gradable.

On a related note, 24 hours later and Microsoft is running into some serious problems with Xbox 360. It would appear that a portion of Xbox 360's are actually crashing mid-game, disconnecting abruptly from the internet, and just plain not working. Official word is that ""It's what you would expect with a consumer electronics instrument of this complexity .... par for the course.".

Par for the course? Par for the course?! That's right. You heard it here first, Microsoft calls a complete system crash, "par for the course"...coming from the people behind Windows 98, NT and ME, I can't say I'm surprised. I'm sure there are a few of you who experienced the notorious Disc Read Error (DRE) on the Playstation 2. Sure, occasionally a game wouldn't load - though most eventually would - and some claim a repurchase to solve the problem, but did the Playstation 2 ever crash and give out during a game? Never. Dead pixels on the DS and PSP (not to mention any LCD screen in existence) is "par for the course". This isn't just a minor glitch...this is a full on crash. When you purchase a car, "par for the course" is oil changes, perhaps worn break pads, and the occasional defect; be it kinked transmission fluid hose, or faulty oil pump causing the car not function properly, but fixable at reasonable cost (if any) to the consumer. That's par the course. Starting up the engine, having her purr like a tiger to then promptly drive herself off of a cliff is not "par for the course". Nice try though Microsoft, perhaps next time we'll wait until our product is ready for the consumer, and not just ready to take a bite out of your competitions marketshare. Greedy pricks.

November 22, 2005

We shall call it X-Day!

By now, if you had an Xbox 360 on pre-order, you probably already have the machine in your hands. If not, better luck next time. The day has finally come, and it seems that Microsoft knows how to throw one hell of a party. Kudos to Microsoft of masterminding the largest console launch ever. But was it worth it? Has Microsoft been stretched and contorted to it's theoretical limits? It would seem this launch is anything but "successful". Console shortages are ripping through the hearts of gamers everywhere...and yes even some people who already laid down the full 400 USD for the thing. If you're following, Microsoft is spreading themselves far too thin. The fabric of their being has been pulled taught to the point of tearing. North America, being Microsoft's only source of "million seller marketplace" has received the most generous allotment of machines - obviously - but is even that enough? We got somewhere in the ballpark of 1 million Xbox 360's here, and still there are people who have pre-ordered (months in advance mind you) that aren't going to be fragging or flaming online like they had expected. At this point historically, I'd assume thats the kind of thing that is entirely unavoidable.

The United Kingdom consequentially gets the shaftiest shaft of all shafts, receiving a paltry and insulting 50 000 Xbox 360s to place under the Christmas tree. That's Goddamned offensive (although Europe's running total is around 400k). While I'm uncertain on the actual alotted consoles for our Japanese neighbours, the number is within range of 200k. If Microsoft's brass knew full well about this world wide launch from step one, why didn't they forsee this shortage? It doesn't take clairvoyancy or wizardry to predict this kind of road bloc, but Microsoft has gotten so damned cocky. Both the DS and PSP were in unprecendented demand for a handheld during their respective launches. Both sold at a faster rate than previous GameBoy iterations. Videogames are a hot commodity, that's not news Microsoft.

However, an international launch has one huge advantage: saturation. The console is unleashed everywhere, all at once, and not only becomes the buzz of the town, the state,the province, or the country...but the world. This is definitely Microsoft's 1UP with this launch. But is it worth disappointing eager consumers who actually pre-ordered a console but were in the end ripped of that pleasure? I'd say no. There's no doubt in my mind that Microsoft just wasn't prepared for this launch. Yes, Xbox 360 will sell out all across the country...but is it because of demand, or because Microsoft just couldn't keep up with the ambition they set forth with?

The launch line-up here is getting mixed reviews. It seems that PGR3 and Call of Duty 2 are the "must have" titles of Xbox 360, but those aren't what I'd call "killer apps". Nintendo DS had Super Mario 64, Gamecube had Pikmin and the soon thereafter Super Smash Bros Melee - which probably holds the honour of best launch title ever. Playstation 2 had Fantavision and PSP had Lumines. Each a unique experience you probably wouldn't get anywhere else. The unfortunate thing is you can play CoD2 and PGR3 type experiences on other consoles, and in a multitude of forms. The only non-sports, non-FPS game in the Xbox 360 18 title launch line-up is Kameo, and the game has been getting average to "good" reviews. It certainly isn't the AAA system seller everyone thought it would be (and to debunk a classic Miyamoto quote: a delayed game IS NOT inevitably good!). Do I personally see a reason to be playing an Xbox 360 this year? No, not at all. As a rule, I do not play sports games...they are fun, but ultimately the same experience year after year. First person shooters are a mixed breed, but not something I'd like to saturate a library with. Is it worth the price of admission? The hardware certainly makes it seem so, but with the Playstation 3 on the horizon, and at a likely similar price point, I will opt for the more advanced, more powerful console and deductively the better launch-line up (since any combination of exisiting titles would be better than the sports/FPS ratio that the Xbox 360 sports).

To add insult to injury, a week ago, order forms for Xbox 360 still numbered in the thousands per chain in Japan. The launch line-up is even worse, with no RPG in sight and only 6 titles to chose from, the Xbox 360 JP launch is at it's best, rushed and pathetic. Launching in Japan without an RPG is the equivalent of lauching here in North American with no Madden or racing sim. It's not asking for, it's demanding failure. Not to say Xbxo 360 will fail in Japan, but it's launch probably will. I assume the majority of machines will be snatched up by impulse shoppers and mildly interested folk who already paid tribute to the original Xbox, since there doesn't appear to be demand anywhere near the magnitude of "Playstation" or "Nintendo DS".

On top of this evolving list of problems, backwards compatibility is at an all time low. Combined with only 18 games being backwards compatible in Japan, and 200 here in North America and Europe (out of the potential 700 titles, even excluding the most recent titles, like Half-Life 2 and Prnce of Persia), Xbox 360 is going down in history as "the little big console that couldn't". This entire fiasco is just proof that this next-gen jump start is happening far too early. Microsoft just wasn't ready or prepared for this. Microsoft is master of their domain, they know that they could sell you an empty box as long as their hype-campaign was forcibly backing it, so these short comings are something that could have been easily avoided...if Microsoft weren't the industry newbies they're proving themselves to be. Broadening the window for multinational launch would have been a start, and actual backwards compatibility would have been a close second on the list of things Microsoft knew would go wrong, but ignored anyway.

November 16, 2005

Demo-lition Mastery and FFXII HaXxor!

You're just not a hardcore gamer if Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King doesn't interest you. Not only does it fill the pre-requisite of having more words than non-nerds can handle a single title, it fully taps the power of RPG fan service. People wanted a 3D DQ game with that latest tech generation appeal. Akira Toriyama is probably one of the most renowned pencil guys in Japan, and his work is distinguishable from all other forms of manga, and Square Enix brought him on board to sketch the googley eyed disposition of the DQ8 cast. This title is hot in Japan, I can't even tell you how hot, since merely mentioning the hotness will melt the skin off of our faces. What I can tell you, is that it's sold a whopping 4 million units in Japan, and is still casually flying off shelves. Dragon Quest to those Nihonmaniacs is what FF is to us Cannuckle Patriots (ie: North Americans). Sure, FF is wildly popular in Japan, moreso than here in the west, but Dragon Quest is by far the more popular option overseas. We chose McDonalds, they chose Ramen, and occasionally we all eat both.

Saving impressions of the game until review time, DQ8 in North America has come bundled with the english demo of Final Fantasy XII. The game that's been in development for almost 4 years now - a teaser poster with the FFXII logo was leaked only weeks before FFX-2 released in NA during Christmas 2001 - it's about god damned time we get a demo. Trailer after trailer after trailer...one man can only be tempted so long. What a thinker: Square Enix being aware that DQ is a vastly under sold and under appreciated series here, releases the demo of a game most of us have wanted and pined for exclusively with this title. Sneaky? Yes, absolutely. But at what cost? Is it really so sneaky when the game the demo is packed with is freaking fantastic? Konami pulled a similar stunt when they released the godly Metal Gear Solid 2 demo with the low key Zone of the Enders. Zone of the Enders, to this day, was a huge hit with fans, and not because of the tantalizing and manipulative MGS2 demo. The game on it's own merits was friggin' unbelievable. It was a sleeper hit that only Metal Gear Solid fans really nurtured in their collective bosom. ZOE2 hits shelves a little later, and it sells like 10 copies - obvious hyperbole - and the amount of people who bought that game could probably congregate in a 10 feet x 10 feet room. Why? No high profile demo of course. Which is a shame, since ZOE2 is easily one of the best games of this generation past. It was innovative, remarkably original, and was of course a Kojima production (whose name alone sparks interest, due to his unparalleled talent at creating great videogames).

Back to the topic on hand, if the FFXII bundle hadn't come prepackaged with Dragon Quest VIII Journey of the Cursed King - a name I say in full proudly and repeatedly to reaffirm my nerdness - the game wouldn't sell, and would go unappreciated again. It would be another fabulous title in the stinker, simply because people were too distracted by a billion dollar advertising campaing for Xbox 360, instead of looking at the sheer volume of high quality titles available for still viable current-gen platforms. So while sneaky, it's for the best. There is no wrong in tricking people into doing something, so long as it's something they will enjoy (they just don't know it yet).

On a more important note, the demo of FFXII has been u83R HaX'D! It would appear that summoning the esper Hashmal as Vaan in the Phon Coast stage of the demo, allows your newly summoned creature to "pwn" the enemies with his "Roxxor" attack. I shit you not. This attack is real, and it really does own. Is this a humourous jab at internet leet-speak or is it a genuine attempt by Square Enix to be original? I can't even tell, the demo is such a serious venture that it almost seems inappropriate for it to be a humourous jab. Then again, never put it past Square to load a game to the brim with pop-culture homages and esoteric references.

November 13, 2005

Review Round-Up (11/11/05) - And then there was...the One.

Resident Evil 4 (GC versus PS2) 9.5/9.6:The room is dark, dimly lit by a chest mounted flashlight, and everything around you is dripping with blood. The foul stench of rotted flesh permeates through the walls, and the loco locals are even worse off. Around every corner a trap is set, a creature lurks and evil waits for that prime moment; the moment when your inner fear is at it's peak, and leaps at you from it's resident holdings. Resident Evil 4 takes off in a radically new direction that succeeds on every level...Full Review

November 05, 2005

Review Round-Up (11/04/05) - Regaling with Jak

Reminiscing with Jak and Daxter, his pedigree of gaming goodness and sour grapes.

Jak and Daxter (PS2) -- 9.4: Naughty Dog, the founding father of the Crash Bandicoot series, a now legendary platformer for the Playstation, have now made their debut on the Ps2 with this incredible new franchise, that simply dwarfs what Crash Bandicoot was. If Crash Bandicoot was a cheap red wine, Jak and Daxter would be the champagne, its simply euphoric...Full Review

Jak II(PS2) -- 7.0: Notably, Jak and Daxter was platforming in the most literal sense. There weren't many enemies, (compared to other platformers) and the challenges weren't very difficult. Even though the game was simplisticly designed, it was too hard to put down...which is exactly why Jak II is such a disappointment...Full Review

Jak 3 (PS2) -- 9.0:Jak 3 is the epic conclusion to what we now refer to as the "Precursor Legacy Saga". Insinuating, that there be another saga, or even sagas in Jak and Daxter's future...or maybe just one of them. For all intents and purposes, it does a pretty good job at tying up loose ends, and explaining the origin of the precursors and the mysterious origin of Jak and his furry frere Daxter...Full Review

I'm hoping to get a review for Jak X posted, but I haven't finished playing the game yet, nor can I bring myself too. If there are any takers, I'd be willing to post a guest review for the game. Anyway, if you ever wondered and contemplated playing the Jak series, I highly recommend it. Even though the central chapter is a bit bumpy, the overall trilogy is very well done, well written, and overall a good set of games to own.