Tuesday, July 27, 2010

You Can Sim with This, or You Can Sim with That...

I have some thoughts, and my thoughts are trending towards sim (simulation) games.  There's a bloggable series in this, I just know it.

The idea for this came from a combination of 2 sources:
    1.  My love for games like Harvest Moon
    2.  Changing a poopy diaper

Weird, I know!  But work with me on this one.  Harvest Moon - Concept: Build up a farm.  Plant seeds.  Water, wait, harvest.  Get animals.  Feed, groom, kill & eat.  (Ok not kill.  Or eat.  But you can eat their by-products, I'm looking at you, Chicken!)  This game would not be fun in real life.  I mean, yes, farming has its definite advantages, like providing me with food which I love...but it is hard work.  And I believe 4 hours of watering plants would not be quite as delightful in the hot sun as it is on my nice, soft bed.

Also the Sims.  Has anyone noticed that you are just living your life on that game?  I can live life 100% of the time, but somehow living life on my computer is just that much more fun.  Heck, I can even make my virtual self on the Sims sit there and play the computer!  It's like a bizarro loop has occurred there...am I playing The Sims, or is The Sims playing me?  Ok, I know I'm playing it - but the same ideas are brought up here as they are in Harvest Moon.  In The Sims 2 I have to clean the toilet, wipe up the counters, take out the trash, pay bills.  These are things I do on a daily basis, and on a daily basis they are boring.  I avoid paying my real bills by logging into Sims and paying my fake bills.  How does this make any sense?

So I know you're wondering how the poopy diaper comes into play.  I was changing my little baby and thinking, "Would this be fun as a Sim game?"  I know there is a sim baby game on DS but I have never played it.  Maybe when you you it is just totally awesome to get a poopy diaper, and you feel a real sense of achievement when the baby is spotlessly clean again.  Maybe I would like to change poopy diapers if I got 10 gamerscore for doing it.

What other things in this life seem totally boring, but you know you would lose yourself to if it was a sim game?  (That is if you're like me and sim games just seem to suck you in and make you lose yourself.)  Sim-Watch-Repair?  Sim-Garbage-Man?  Sim-Dental-Hygenist?  The possibilities are endless!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Limbo is Full of Minimalist Fun

We see trailers every week for the latest and greatest games. They all boast intense graphics, dramatic soundtracks, gratuitous sexual content, and visceral battle scenes. Clearly, no one at PlayDead Studios was paying attention to what the rest of the industry was doing. They have one, timeless philosophy: Simple is Best.

Limbo is a puzzle, platform, 2D, side-scroller that is available for download exclusively on XBL. The story, graphics, sound, and everything else are all kept incredibly simple. The game is in black and white and sits very much on the darker side of the gray scale. The environment is geometric and clean. Even the main character is nothing more th
an a well defined shadow of a boy with two bright white eyes. This simplistic environment really sets the tone for both the intensity and the charm of this game.

There are other games out there that have a similar feel. One thing that sets Limbo apart is the soundtrack, or near lack thereof. There is almost no music in the game. On very rare occasion, a quick, deep instrumental will play at the beginning of a more dangerous sequence. The rest of the time, there are no sounds except for the characters immediate surroundings. Expect some light water sounds, dragging boxes, a
nd the occasional clank of pipes. Even the character remains silent. The lack of dramatic, mood driving music makes the game more intense than other titles that employ a full orchestra. It's kinda like the Jaws effect: two notes can be scarier than a whole song.

I love simple controls. I know it's really weird to hear me say that considering I lean towards games like Final Fantasy that are heavy with menus. But this game is shockingly simply. You will use one joystick to walk and only two buttons for everything else. The A button is to jump and the B is the action control. That makes this game easy to learn and hard to forget if you walk away for a couple weeks or a month.

One disadvantage of the game is the story. There isn't much of one at all. You wake up as a boy in the woods on the edge of Hell. You must find your missing sister. No explanation is given for why the boy or the sister are in purgatory. I won't give away the ending, but I found it a little annoying. But again, this is another area where simple is probably better. If the game was full of talking or text, it would most likely lose some of its appeal. This game feels not like a story as much as art.

The game play is great. It is a classic puzzle game that starts easy and becomes more difficult and complex as the game goes on. Sometimes getting the timing perfect can be really frustrating, but that just makes the victory sweeter when it finally happens. Unfortunately this game is really short. I cranked this one out in about 6 hours. There is some replayability, but it's limited to achievement hunting. Despite this, I think Limbo is an absolute steal for only 1,200 Microsoft Points.

I clearly recommend this game for almost anyone. Sure, it's not crammed full of action and violence, but every gamer periodically needs a break from the over-stimulating games. When in doubt, just remember; keep it simple stupid. Do yourself a solid and download Limbo. You will thank me for it later.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Alan Wake: A Simpleton's Look at an Over-Reviewed Game

Ever wish you were a famous author ? Ever wish you could blast through ghosts that only exist in your mind ? Ever wish you could do both of these things at once ? If you said yes, this is the game for you !

Story: 10/10 This is more of a story than it is a video game. There are in depth characters who are trying to help loved ones and explore their own fears. I person
ally didn't care for the story myself but that's because I'm not really into mysteries. But I can appreciate the fact that it was well structured and that everyone who has played it really enjoyed it.

Graphics: 8/10 The graphics are decent enough. They definitely aren't going to blow your mind. The main character is controlled third person and I was impressed with how smooth it was. There are a lot of other games where you play and watch third person and it's far more clumsy. The camera angle may try to auto-correct or sometimes you are up against something and your vision is suddenly limited. But Alan Wake has really worked its way around these problems.

Sound: 9/10 Pretty typical. What was nice was that the developers didn't drive repetitive music into my head. I hate when games do that and I'm always ready to give a better score for games that refrain from that. They do a pretty good job of incorporating all the sounds of a creepy woodland setting. The timing is also great for keeping the tension up. Just when you start to get a little comfortable, a flock of loud crows will burst out and shake yo
u up.

Gameplay: 6/10 There is hardly any game playing going on here. The first 30 minutes of the game is some random walking around with extensive cut scenes. The cut scenes are lengthy, and there is frequently a narration going on. The little gameplay that actually takes place is pretty monotonous. You shine a flashlight and shoot down imaginary spirits. Occasionally you turn on a generator or move a couple logs to make a path, but that's about it.

Overall: 9/10 This game is great for certain people and horrible for others. If you want a story driven RPG, this is probably going to be one of the best games you have played since Mass Effect. If you want shoot 'em ups with lots of action, don't even bother opening the case. But for the effort of the game, its a pretty good one.

Buy/Rent: This one is a rent. I know I gave it a 9/10, but there is really no re-playability in the game. The first play through is pretty amazing, but after that, you are kinda done. There is the possibility to play on different difficulty settings or to go find collectible items like hidden trunks and manuscript pages, but that's really about it. I recommend you rent it on a weekend where its just too damn hot to go outside. You can sit indoors and mainline the game in the soothing comfort of your central air.

On a final note, be prepared to be inundated with product placement. Energizer batteries is the biggest one. You need energy for your flashlight and you have to collect excellently replicated Energizer batteries, complete with cardboard display. They even have different kinds like the regular one and the lithium. There is also a lot of placement for Ford. The whole game really crams this kind of stuff down your throat. But I suppose it's a recession, they have to fund the game somehow.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

CSI: Hard Evidence, A Short Review for Your Face.

I have never watched an episode of CSI in my life. I don't really care for the crime investigation/ forensics shows. With that in mind, it is probably my own fault for not liking this game. But I definitely feel like the game most likely lacks for other people too. Here's the non-formatted breakdown.

This game reminds me of the old school PC games where there was never really any action. You were simply out to solve mysteries. That is
exactly what this game is. There are a five different stories. Your job as the player is to solve these murders. You don't shoot, chase criminals, or involve yourself in any other kind of action. It is completely thought driven.

The player is allowed to investigate a crime scene. You have to gather evidence by using a briefcase full of tools. You can extract finger prints, bullet casings, and bloodstains. You then take all this information back to a laboratory to examine. You also have access to the victims' bodies and an interrogation room for witnesses.

These tools do have some moments of fun. There are times when the technological achievements of the investigator are impressive. But you have to do everything is a very specific order. You investigate the crime scene, then talk to someone, then investigate again, then visit the body, and so on. You are really only allowed to unravel certain parts of the mystery at a time. This makes the game very slow moving.

While this definitely isn't the game for me, I do have non-gaming friends that really enjoyed it. One friend played regularly played with her husband until they had solved all the crimes. Its a very non-stressful game that doesn't require a lot of skill. The added bonus is that the achievements are super easy. There are five crimes and solving each crime nets you 200 points. You don't' have to scour the landscape searching for collectibles. And there is no impossible difficulty level to complete. Even if you miss some of the evidence, you can still complete the investigation and get your points.

So it is really up to you whether or not you are going to like this game. If you are looking for action and adventure, this is the game for you. If you want to sit down for several hours and just relax with a lazy game, this is what you have been looking for.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I'm Coming to Get'cha!

Do you see this?
That is a box full of precious cargo.  And it's the sign that I'll be back in the gaming world in, oh, a week and a half?  Can't promise I'll be online at that point, but I will be back in the same house as my systems which, to me, is at least a 98% improvement over being away from them.

They missed me.  I got a big, wirey, tangly hug when I got them out of storage.