A fairly uneventful day. Finished the second playthrough of Back to the Future: The Game as expected, complete with platinum number fourteen. Trying to locate all that bonus content on disc turned out to be a challenge and after a bit of sleuthing, it became apparent that either Telltale Games or Deep Silver, the publisher of the disc version in Europe, had made a right royal blunder – all that content was actually missing from the disc altogether. Yup, an inexplicable screw-up.
Deep Silver in particular seems to have resorted in ostrich tactics by burying their head into sand, as they no longer even list the game on their webpage. Telltale's forums in turn were incredibly sluggish but I eventually found a few posts that led to all the omitted bonus content. Concept art can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here, and video content here and here. It sure would have been nice to see all that on disc as promised but apparently stuff like this can happen. Tsk tsk tsk.
Nevertheless, those developer audio commentaries in particular – half an hour for each of the five episodes – were most fascinating to watch and listen. Naturally they're also rich in spoilers for anyone, who hasn't yet experienced the adventure. Rather than tech stuff, they leisurely concentrate on the series' characters, actors, settings, and puzzles, which is most welcome for anyone interested in storytelling. It's somewhat sad that so many cool-sounding ideas had to be streamlined or compacted down but there's no denying every budget has its limit.
Now it's time to start waiting for Telltale to finish The Walking Dead, already up to three episodes, and once again release all the episodes on disc. That one better include everything claimed on the cover, though...
It has been another joyful day with the Vita as I focused on one of its most prominent launch titles, Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Nathan Drake's fourth adventure takes place before the first game in the series and its reins have been handed over to an entirely new developer, Bend. While the case touts the game as a full-blown Uncharted adventure with explosive action and cinematic storytelling, I have to admit that I had my doubts. Still, I was genuinely surprised that the hype was well-founded; Golden Abyss truly is a complete, gorgeous, and high-class article almost right on par with its famed predecessors.
This time Drake runs around the jungles of Panama in pursuit of the Spanish legend of the Seven Cities of Gold. He's accompanied by a wily, two-bit treasure hunter Jason Dante and his partner, the beautiful Marisa Chase. The opposing party is represented by the local, utterly corrupted ex-general Roberto Guerro and his perky paramilitaristic troops. What follows is easily a good ten hours' worth of familiar activities; climbing, treasure hunting, firefights, sneaking, lightweight puzzles, smooth small talk, and pretty much everything one has already come to expect from an Uncharted game.
Golden Abyss is a particularly good way to showcase Vita itself. It really looks like a compact-sized PS3 game and, thanks to the two analog sticks, plays like one as well. Granted, the thumbsticks are rather small, which makes especially aiming a bit fluttery but this is probably as close as one can get to home console gaming on the road. Of course, Golden Abyss also works as a shameless Vita feature demo and contains a gazillion uses for the hardware's touchscreens and gyro sensors via pointless minigames and alternative control methods. They're all utterly unnecessary and irrelevant but luckily most of them can be ignored entirely.
The game itself has been cooked with the good old Uncharted recipe. Third person action is evenly distributed between climbing, puzzle-solving, and combat, interrupted with countless cinematics telling the story. Bend has decided to tinker with the ingredients a little, though, resulting in a lot more sniping and sneaking than before and skipping supernatural enemies altogether. Then again, the number of treasures scattered here and there is now so over the top, that finding them lost all appeal even before the game was at its halfway point. Everything has a limit!
The story was yet another decent Indy-esque romp, although many of the central characters turned out to be a little too stereotypical and even the chit-chat between the good guys felt somewhat forced and tired. Drake and Chase didn't have nearly a good enough chemistry going on and while it seemed like Bend had no trouble handling the technical and visual aspects of Uncharted, they're still not on par with Naughty Dog's phenomenal skill in coming up with memorable characters, tension, and dialogue. Then again, it could also be a matter of pretty much any series starting to wind down after a trilogy.
But enough with the whining. Apart from minor issues and off-balance, Golden Abyss was an immensely entertaining adventure that had no trouble keeping its player captivated. It should even impress the most adamant of naysayers who claim that handheld game consoles are already a thing of the past. There isn't any other piece of portable hardware currently out there that could provide a similarly comprehensive gaming experience, simple as that.
One doesn't have to be much of a clairvoyant to foresee the activities of today. Vita has been the focal point of all attention and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F, after nine hours, is already played through. All of its 32 songs have been completed with at least an Excellent grade both on Easy and Normal, and the same journey now continues on Hard. There have been a handful of Perfects as well but the entire series has delivered me so many 95-99 percent performances of only a missed note or two that I'm already pretty much done with sheer perfectionism.
Miku and her troupe look absolutely gorgeous on Vita's bright, five-inch OLED screen but the concept on whole has been subjected to a bit of tinkering at the same time. The songs now feature one or two Technical Zones during which the overall score can be improved, as long as the player manages to hit each of their notes. The good old Chance Time session is still there, although this time around its notes grow a star that, after flicked at the end of the sequence, either extends the ending of the song a little or adds in an extra refrain, usually accompanied with impressive pyrotechnics.
Wait a second, did I say flick? Indeed. Since the Vita is equipped with a touchscreen, it was only an expectable move by Sega to make use of it. As well as notes that have to be hit or held down, Project Diva F introduces stars that have to be flicked. It's apparently designed to be done with a thumb but I suppose no designer ever questioned hands getting sweaty amidst all the frantic note-bashing, rendering this otherwise neat idea somewhat inconvenient. Even then, the index finger subconsciously wants to handle the issue, seriously hampering the capability of keeping in rhythm. I even suffered a great deal before realizing that some of the most vicious of such sections have to be tackled by keeping the finger on the screen and scratching like a DJ.
The game also packs loads of some sort of studio-esque side content, although all of that is practically inscrutable for us illiterates. Thankfully shopping for alternative costumes – or modules, as the series likes to call them – is a breeze and there seems to be more of those than ever before. I was also most taken by the augmented reality part of the game, allowing a massive, roughly eight inch Miku to appear for a live performance on an A5-sized AR sheet. Vita's camera tracks her incredibly well, no matter the angle or distance. The virtual Miku on 3DS was a nice gimmick but the one on Vita is just plain impressive!
Overall, even after such a short time to become acquainted, Vita already feels like a pretty commendable piece of hardware. It has twice the cameras, touchscreens, and thumbsticks, and in general feels like Sony tried to be sure and pack in absolutely everything needed and then some. It whiffs a bit of needless exaggeration but it sure comes out as pretty and efficacious. The sphere-inspired UI is intuitive and hopping between applications is not just possible but exceptionally fluent as well.
The device integrates with delightful ease with the rest of the hardware at home. Controlling the PS3 remotely via Wi-Fi isn't an issue at all and it gets along fine with the PC just the same. Content management, though, requires proprietary, separately sold USB cable. That gave me a bit of a scare before I realized that the cord required was the same one that the device uses with its charger. Thus, in the end, the triplet of PS3, PC, and Vita had no trouble chatting with each other.
PS3 blessed Vita with Sound Shapes, which I already ranted about earlier this week. Its download actually consisted of both the PS3 and the Vita versions, which was awfully nice and all. As for the PC, it received a handful of screenshots that the Vita supports, especially from the viewpoint of a blogger, most impressively; just hold down the Home and Start buttons and whatever is going on gets captured as a screenshot. Awesome!
Project Diva F isn't really a game suitable for judging the controls of the device but it goes without saying that dual thumbsticks are pretty much the basis for any serious gaming. The four primary buttons felt a bit small and cramped at the beginning but it's just a matter of getting used to. It probably takes Uncharted to see how the rest of the controls are going to hold up but as for the battery, that one's clear by now. Intent gaming with Wi-Fi on and sure enough, five hours is all it takes. Kind of disappointing but considering the performance, quite understandable and easily forgiven, at least here at home next to a power outlet.
Further analysis will require more time but as for now, I'm really quite pleased with the investment.
Today's most radiant personality has easily been Juliet Starling, a perky cheerleader blonde who just turned 18 and whose carefreeness and exuberance are only matched by her overflowing love for strawberry lollipops. Oh, she's also a zombie hunter who wields a heart adorned chainsaw and carries with her the decapitated head of her boyfriend, Nick, who lost his body in... Ahem... Let's say in some adverse circumstances. He's still alive and talkative, though. Yup, everything is as ordinary as can be (＾▽＾)
So, the game of this Wednesday is obviously Lollipop Chainsaw, created by one of the most eccentric game designers in Japan, Suda51. He has once again been given all the leeway he wants and the end result is one of the most vivacious, obscene, and campy experiences since pretty much forever! It's a third person action game in which Juliet bulldozes a gory way through hundreds of undead in order to prevent the most emo-ish gloomster of her school from taking over the world with the aid of five powerful rock'n roll zombies. Chainsaw revs are high, the zombies extremely vulgar, and the chats between Juliet and Nick are best left undescribed altogether. Fabulous!
The deceased put up such a strong fight that rambunctious chainsaw waving isn't going to be enough. Not only is Juliet exceptionally nimble at dodging out of harm's way – even by leapfrogging over the zombies themselves – she can also pummel them with her pom-poms, leaving them in a groggy state perfect for a quickly followed up, brutal finishing move. Taking out multiple opponents with a single swing is rewarded with rainbow colors and a pile of medals bigger than usual. They in turn are used to improve Juliet's stats and to buy her more effective combos, new clothes, music, and concept art.
As far as execution and gameplay go, Lollipop Chainsaw leaves quite a bit to be desired but it's just too wild and funny a ride not to like. Juliet is a perfect and fascinating combination of a scatterbarined blonde and an extremely proficient zombie hunter, and her voice actor, Tara Strong, does a truly excellent job in bringing her to life. The musically influenced boss characters are worth praising as well, including a snotty punk zombie, a Norwegian black metal ghoul, and a very trippy 70's flower child, just to name a few. Each stage has been crammed full of music suitable for each theme and thus the game's soundtrack is very energetic, versatile, and of great quality.
The camera has enough trouble keeping up with the action that the exact position of the enemies is often a matter of pure guesswork. Also, Juliet's moves either end or are interrupted so clumsily that dancing a fluent ballet of death isn't exactly a possibility. Minor issues that almost feel at home with the game's somewhat hoarse overall fell. Lollipop Chainsaw might not be the prettiest or smoothest games of its platform but when it comes to character and believing in itself, it's got more than its fair share and that counts for a lot!
The short, yet eventful, addictive, and insanely hilarious story takes only a little over six hours to complete but the game has been packed so full of collectables, score challenges, and trophies that it has no trouble entertaining for a much longer period of time. I can't even remember when I last played through something in one sitting, only to restart it all over again after the end credits had rolled 〈(゜。゜) One of the best, most outrageous alternative gaming experiences for a long time! d=(´▽｀)=b
Today New Marais got a new hero as Cole MacGrath, also known as the Demon of Empire City, took over the city and gave a royal whooping to the Beast that had tracked him there. In other words, Infamous 2 is now through and with all side missions completed, managed to entertain for about 19 hours. It's a nice length for an open world game, although it got a little repetitious towards the end. Apart from a handful of photo shoot and tailing missions they all involved shocking the crap out of unsavory people. Despite a wide array of powers to deploy, it wasn't a particularly versatile way of spending time.
Just like in the previous game, Cole is perhaps slightly underpowered as a superhero. His resilience against the shots of eagle-eyed bad guys leaves a bit to be desired and when even a perfect headshot with an electric sniper-like round can't bring down the most common of grunts, the balance of the game is somewhat questionable. It's not a particularly difficult game but especially the bigger meanies on its last half tend to be such damage sponges that fights regress into a constant matter of having to retreat and suck up more juice from the nearest electric pole or a car.
The gameplay in this sequel is still just as awkward as it used to be. Cole usually has no trouble leaping upwards but coming down is a constant hassle of getting stuck at each and every ledge on the way down. Drawing electricty suffers from the opposite, requiring him to be facing the desired voltage source as directly and closely as possible. It's not a huge issue but can get a bit irksome during some of the more frantic skirmishes.
Otherwise Infamous 2 is a solid game. A lot of attention has been put on wonderful characters and cinematics, the story flows well and culminates in a blowout of epic proportions, and although Cole could stand up to punishment a little better, the ambiance of superheroism is definitely present. New Marais as a stage could have been a bit more alive and expressive but ascending its clock towers and grinding its power lines was still reasonably fun. Despite lacking in the wow factor, Infamous 2 is still a proficient and stylish representative of its genre. Yummy.
After a couple of days spent elsewhere, it was time to experience the PSN rhythm "shooter" Retro/Grade which unconventionally begins where most games end. The last alien mothership goes boom, Rick Rocket has saved the universe, and the end credits roll. It's just that the prolonged fighting has caused space-time anomalies that result in the time starting to rewind itself. So, Rick has to redo his noble deeds backwards by firing every shot and making every evasive maneuver at the right time to keep the structure of the entire universe happy with itself.
Sounds nifty and I have to admit, the developers back at 24 Carat Games sure don't lack creativity. In practice, Retro/Grade is an out of the ordinary Guitar Hero clone in which note lines are replaced by moving Rick's ship up and down whereas the shots he fired act as notes that need to be hit the moment they reach his vessel. Missed shots by the enemy flow towards Rick from the other side of the screen, requiring careful dodging in order to keep them missing this second time around as well. All this bustling is complemented by bonus powers that need to be collected and activated at tactically sound moments in order to keep the combo multiplier going as efficiently as possible.
Retro/Grade is delightfully original and graphically impressive. It might look a little bit chaotic and is, too – mostly thanks to the wildly rewinding backgrounds – but then again, it also serve those wonderful rhythm game moments where everything just mysteriously clicks together despite brains having bailed out of the ride a couple of stops ago. Retro/Grade could be a truly neat game. Yeah. Could be.
All music games live primarily by their soundtracks and as far as Retro/Grade goes, it falls remarkably flat. Ten instrumental tracks for a tenner isn't a bad deal at all but not a single one of them managed to leave a lasting impression. Anemic, uninspiring synth pieces with some vague, retro-esque influences sprinkled on top but not nearly boldly enough. Keeping in rhythm results in feeble pops rather than satisfying thunks, and the game simply isn't fun to play.
The campaign is over in about an hour, although there are six difficulty levels to tackle as well as a bunch of bonus challenges at that. I didn't mind a single playthrough but after starting the second one, the musics were bland enough to make a hasty exit and consider this one seen and fully experienced in less than two hours.
For true grade A music entertainment, there's Sony's Santa Monica Studio that never ceases to amaze with its impeccable eye for quality. Proof in point this time? Sound Shapes, which is pretty much what would happen if LocoRoco and LittleBigPlanet spent a feverish, lustful night together. It's an artsy, minimalistic, rhythm-based 2D-platformer featuring such fairly famous musicians as I Am Robot and Proud, Jim Guthrie, deadmau5, and – wow! – Beck.
The player is a bouncy and tacky ball capable of adhering to everything that is not black and killed by anything red. There are 25 stages, each forming its own tune. At first, there's just a barely audible rhythm but by collecting icons scattered here and there, the songs slowly but surely start to blossom and burst into full bloom by the end of the level. Hazards on the way are also based on the rhythm of the songs and sometimes the music itself forms the route to follow. That Beck piece above probably explains a lot better just how wonderful and unique the experience can be.
Sound Shapes' campaign mode is over within about three hours and – although extremely entertaining – feels a bit too easy. Still, there's a lot of additional content to enjoy. Given rhythms can be recreated by ear, and those after a challenge can expect to hurl plenty of expletives at the screen while tackling a bunch of short, yet sadistically difficult (and yet fun) challenges. The core feature, however, is probably the extensive level editor that gives every creative person an impressing array of tools to come up with awesome new stages. I'll get back to that one – sounds promising!
Once again, I almost forgot about Plus this month but better late than never. Sound Shapes carried a traditional PS+ discount whereas Retro/Grade was (thankfully) amongst the freebies. As for retail titles, August was generous as usual, although personally irrelevant; Borderlands, Just Cause 2, and Dead Space 2 are something I already have. My 12-month subscription is now two-thirds done and at this point I'm slightly banking towards not renewing next year. There's nothing wrong with the service at all – on the contrary, it's nothing short of brilliant – but with a sizeable backlog to begin with, Plus certainly doesn't help in the slightest.
Oh, you want more warmth? No, not really, no. Okay, how does 90F sound? Jesus... I was definitely starting to miss the wintery summers of Finland by now but no can do, bravely onwards! The first target for today was the fair's undeniable turkey, Rambo: The Video Game. It made its debut here and its trailer consisted purely of clips from the movies, thus it had really high chances of being absolutely craptastic. From another point of view, that could've meant a delightfully corny and hilariously camp experience but sadly it turned out to be just a good-looking but utterly boring on-rails shooter; something that might work as an arcade cabinet but not much else. One button to shoot, another to reload, and third to take cover. Then it's just a matter of moving the crosshairs on top of enemy soldiers and letting loose. Bad but not nearly bad enough to be actually good. Oh well, at least they bribed all players with a plush grenade :D
Next up, a beat'em up focusing on pretty ladies and – admittedly – breast physics, i.e. Dead or Alive 5. As a very pleasant surprise the staff distributed free sodas for everyone waiting in the line and after about an hour or so it was time to challenge some random stranger for three best out of three matches. The series puts heavy emphasis on blocking and counter-attacking with fluent, hard-to-interrupt combos. I'm definitely not a good brawler but I had enough DoA experience to win the first few rounds with embarrassing ease, after which I started to hold back a little. This is why I'll never become a good online player. I don't mind getting my ass kicked but as soon as I do well myself, I become uneasy and start to feel sorry for the other player. Screw ownage culture.
Yesterday's brief visit to Sony's playground with its comfy lounge bags reminded me that the best games aren't necessarily those that have the biggest marketing budget and the longest queues. Thus I enjoyed a long session of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time which featured two long and widescale missions. The game seemed to continue in the footsteps of the third one, focusing on frequent character changes, mini-games, and daring heists. As a new feature there are Sly's playable ancestors, each with their own set of special skills, but on whole the game felt decidedly more like a safe sequel than a triumphant revival of an old franchise. Not that it matters; I'm sold either way.
After that it was time to experience my personal favorite of this year's Gamescom, namely The Unfinished Swan. It starts off as a white screen and nothing else. Pressing a button flings a blob of ink that splatters on top of whatever it hits. With the aid of these blobs one has to find a route to advance. The game is entirely black-and-white with the exception of occasional yellow webbed footprints (a duck?) that seem to lead towards the answer to the question of what on earth is going on. It has minimalistic beauty, it's incredibly stylish, and it gives off similar artistic vibes as, say, Flower or Journey. Definitely something that is better experienced than explained. It still hasn't got a release date but the wonderful demo hooked me in one try.a tietoa mutta tyylikäs demo vakuutti kertaheitolla!
Just around the corner I found Ratchet & Clank: Q-Force. Out of the three playing stations the first one to become available ended up being the German version, so despite earlier experience with Ratchet & Clank games I was having trouble figuring out what I needed to do. Despite the language barrier the game felt like an offshoot of sorts, just like All 4 One. It seemed to focus more on new gimmicks than draw power from its rich heritage. There was a bit of shooting with various weapons and zooming here and there with the hover boots but as there didn't seem to be any kind of story, I quickly lost all interest. Feels like the series is already on its last legs and should really be put to sleep for good.
And that's pretty much everything I got to play at the fair. Granted, I missed most of the so-called AAA titles but a versatile smorgasbord of snacks was far more tastier than a single meal. Thanks to the incredibly hot weather, I happily took advantage of public transport to get back to the city center. Trams operated with five minute intervals and the Gamescom ticket was accompanied with another one providing free transport to and from the fair. I never met a single ticket inspector but I guess they couldn't be bothered as the whole town was full of us gaming tourists. As for dinner, yet another steak with a generous side dish of tasty boiled vegetables and mushrooms.
Stepping out of the restaurant, I heard someone play the Mario medley on an electric guitar about one block away and decided to investigate. Sure enough, on Rudoldplatz a couple of lanes were closed for traffic and a Gamescom open-air concert had conquered the square. Some German band played outgoing pop music that was fun to listen to while enjoying a cold beer on a nearby terrace. A most relaxed and entertaining way to start leaving goodbyes to the city.
Oh, there was even a playthrough this day as I completed 3DS' social StreetPass Quest. It was all about creating your own Mii character and then walking around with the console in sleep mode but with Wi-Fi enabled. Miis of those doing the same will then hop from one console to the other after which it's possible to exchange pieces of Nintendo-themed puzzles with them or use them as monster-fighting heroes in the afore-mentioned little RPG. I had the 3DS with me on the first day but didn't realize until the second that the console's visitor queue is limited to just ten at a time. In Gamescom that meant about two hall's worth of walking but with frequent welcoming I eventually gathered a whopping 213 Miis from ten different countries to my plaza. A fun feature especially in events like these.
Okay, I think I've seen enough. The final race of the four season career mode of Dirt 3 has been won and the championship is mine, so I'll declare this one, albeit cheaply, completed. There would still be plenty of individual races to be driven but none of them are no longer something genuinely new. The game looks awfully pretty, sounds great, and plays extremely well but even during my brief 13 hours on it, it started to repeat itself quite noticeably.
Especially when it comes to rallying, Dirt 3 is a downright swindler. When a separate series wholly dedicated to it finally unlocked, I imagined to get racing for real. The rallies, however, are pathetic five SS stints that, loading times included, take less than fifteen minutes each to race through. Even worse, each event is actually just a single route that has been split and driven back and forth in order to make an illusion of five separate stages.
If absolutely all rally content – DLC included – would be rolled into one, it might make up maybe a third of a single, proper rally. Even that would require the cars to be sent out with intervals long enough to prevent, for Christ's sake, having to overtake them on the way. In other words, in this respect the game is shallower than the shallow end of a kid's pool. That's not to say the inclusion of rallycross and gymkhana wouldn't make up a complete package but anyone seeking a solid rally experience will surely be disappointed.
Besides, all that other content requires a different state of mind anyhow. It's all about bells, whistles, and showing off, and just like in Shift 2, everything is always "wicked awesome" or you should prepare for "an avalanche of awesomeness." I'm badly allergic to that kind of drivel and positively surprised that it was possible to proceed through the career mode without paying much attention especially to gymkhana's jumps, drifts, donuts, and spins.
Dirt 3 is clearly a game of its time. Instant entertainment for people who are easily bored and in need of a constant stimulus. People for whom driving means two minutes of aggressive gunning down the track or trying to impress buzzed chicks with fancy handbreak turns on some Friday night parking lot. I recall the first Colin McRae Dirt was still a fairly decent rally game but it seems the franchise has steered to an entirely different direction aftter that. Bummer. Oh well, perhaps the upcoming WRC 3: FIA World Rally Championship is going to be, if not as pretty and playable, at least more solid.
Well, would you look at that, it's August already? The last few days have gone by on reserve power. Then again, only two more workdays next week and I can start enjoying a four week vacation. Yay! The missing enthusiasm to play games is rekindling as well and the pile of playthroughs is joined by Giana Sisters DS. The wonderful C64/Amiga platformer classic has been resurrected on the Nintendo DS and the Germans responsible have actually done a pretty solid job.
So, the game is still a very simple 2D platformer in which the young girl, Giana, runs and jumps after crystals and on top of cute'n cuddly enemies in more than 80 levels. Grabbing a power orb, she transforms into Punk Giana, gaining the ability to break bricks and hurl fireballs. Furthermore, she can enjoy an occasional piece of bubblegum and soda. The former allows her to soar the skies inside a bubble whereas the latter is used to spray down obstructing walls.
Giana Sisters DS doesn't offer anything new to its genre per se, but it's still a successful nostalgy rehash for anyone who used to enjoy the original game. The old pixel monsters have been transformed into adorable and eloquent sprites and the modernized soundtrack draws neat influences from the old melodies and the wonderful SID sound of the C64. Giana controls in a sharp, most excellent manner and although the game used to be a shameless Mario clone, there's absolutely no skidding so typical to our world famous plumber.
Although the amount of levels sounds massive, there's not really that much to play. The stages are small, short, and easy. By collecting special gems from the first nine stages of each world, an additional bonus level can be unlocked but even that chore is hardly challenging. In fact, only the final, eighth set of levels ramps up the difficulty high enough to put up a decent fight. That's where I ended up spending two of the about six hours that it took to enjoy the ending credits.
Giana Sisters DS doesn't exactly feel worthy of a full price release but it's still a fine way to spend a gratifying afternoon. Those putting in enough effort can even unlock the 32 stages of the original game, complete with the original soundtrack and everything. A most pleasant surprise. If you hunger for nostalgy or wouldn't mind a solid, old school 2D platformer, the game is certainly worth a glance. Not superb but good, and that's just fine by me.
That one was included in my shopping pile of the last couple of weeks, growing the collection with miscellaneous releases either old or on bargain. Epic's potty-mouthed Bulletstorm for under a tenner and the "limited" collector's edition of Final Fantasy XIII-2 under two. Sorry, that's the way it goes when the runs are grossly oversized. Back to the Future: The Game is an old friend already, thanks to PlayStation Plus, but it was such a fun experience that a physical copy is a must. Saints Row 2 mostly just plugs a hole in the trilogy and Max Payne 3 with its statue and art prints and stuff was discounted heavily enough for me to bite, even if it takes up way too much space.
Current weekend entertainment is courtesy of Spec Ops: The Line, starring Captain Walker and his Delta Recon Team, tasked to enter Dubai that has been ravaged with the vilest sandstorms in human history. Their mission is to locate Colonel Konrad and his 33rd Battalion who were sent in to evacuate the city's civilians several months earlier but with whom contact was since then lost. As usual, the mission quickly goes fubar and the trio lead by Walker find themselves in the middle of a chaotic conflict in which it's hard to tell friend from foe and where morality is truly tested.
Spec Ops is essentially a cover-based third person shooter, something the market actually isn't yet uncomfortably full of. Its trump cards are sand and multilevel areas. Of those, the foremost is both a hindrance and an asset; occasional storms can bring the visibility close to zero but then again, sand packed on top of glass ceilings can be dropped on unsuspecting foes with a few well-placed shots. While the game progresses in a pretty straightforward tunnel, the battlegrounds are decently large and feature both vertical and horizontal movement, making the possession of high ground a notable tactical advantage.
Many reviews have praised the game for its good story and genuinely mature themes but in these respects Spec Ops failed to impress. The first few hours are especially carefree and easygoing, and when Deep Purple's Hush starts blaring from the loudspeakers in a ruined hotel while Walker's squad mows down the resistance, it's all as Hollywood as Hollywood can get. As the journey goes on, the atmosphere takes a turn for the dark. Scenes of wartime horror and madness follow one another and even the player is occasionally forced to choose between two almost equally uncomfortable and messed up choices.
The game certainly tries its hardest to provoke a reaction but it just doesn't work. The events have been scripted in a clinical, impassive fashion and their shock value is awkwardly calculated. The pacing is not too good, either. There are small servings of drama and pathos between frantic firefights but hardly a bridge to gap these two extremes. At one moment it's all about angst and at the very next overblown rambo time as usual. The outward appearance of the initially spick-and-span heroes deteriorates in a convincing manner as they plough on but the same cannot really be said about their psyche.
The action, however, is entertaining. It's all about dispatching foes with the usual selection of pistols, rifles, shotguns, and grenades while hiding behind waist-high walls and relocating oneself whenever things get uncomfortably hot. Walker can order his team to attack specific foes in the battlefield, although they also do at least a semi-decent job picking off threats on their own. Everyone shouts out their kills, reloads, and identified threats in a useful manner and while the guns sound a tad feeble, the overall cacophony in the pleasantly big skirmishes is really quite excellent.
The tour of Walker & Co. took about ten hours, although this doesn't imply the game would be longer than an average action title. Rather, it was due to playing it on Hard and ending up reloading checkpoints quite a few times. I take blame for some of them but far too often it was a matter of the moronic AI. Your team is a pair of overly eager and suicidal lemmings who constantly run into the middle of the worst hail of bullets, getting downed, and then waiting for help in the most inconvenient of places.
Enemy grenades caused quite a bit of swearing as well. They're rather frequent, possess a ridiculously large kill zone, cannot be tossed back, and far too often Walker either detaches from cover too slowly or ends up shot in the back while trying to avoid them. I also could have done without the pet peeve of shooters: slow and heavy bullet sponges with machine guns.
On whole Spec Ops wasn't quite what I expected. The story could have been more enthusiastic and the AI was as infuriating as usual. Still, in every other respect the game provided surprisingly solid entertainment and I certainly don't mind giving it another go to grab some more trophies and check out the alternative outcomes of the choices given. It's not the sleeper hit or cult classic I wanted it to be but it still left a fairly positive aftertaste.