Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Game Review: Fallout 3

I have had a very busy day in which I spent most of my time in a car traveling from place to place. The purpose of all of this was to collect various items from various places in order to complete various quests. On one hand, my father needed me to get a 12 pack of beer, so I had to travel to the liquor store to buy it. On another hand, I had to go to the comic book store because Wednesday is new comic book day. On yet another hand, I had to go to a store to buy a gift for someone. And on yet ANOTHER hand, I had to hunt down some medicine for my mother. Eventually, all of these items will connect in my home to create a vast amount of rewards. This is real life.

And then there is Fallout 3.

I will start out by saying that there is no way that before playing this game, I wasn't biased. For starters, Bethesda is a great gaming company. For seconds, I am in love with almost anything post-apocalypse related. It intrigues me in so many different levels. I will see any movie and read any story if I am told it is based in a post-apocalyptic environment. That's literally all it takes. Add to the equation the fact that I loved Fallout 2 when I was younger (even if I could never beat it) and you have created a sure-fire win in my book.

The plot of Fallout 3 is simple: you live in one of the many vaults created by Vault-Tec as a result of a nuclear war. You're happy enough with your life down there until one day, your father (voiced by Liam Neeson) leaves the vault for an unknown reason. You follow him out into the Capitol Wasteland and are faced with limitless possibility. If you want to play the story, you can follow after your father, but you don't have to. You can merely travel around the world, picking up quests and odd jobs. People will ask for all sorts of things, such as spare parts or help saving their town from Super Mutants. The choice is yours, and what a wonderful set of choices it is.

This, in my humble opinion, is where Fallout 3 shines beyond shining. The world they have created is so beautiful and wondrous (in a morbid way). The second I stepped out of the Vault I was floored about how everything looked. There are mutated animals roaming around, people hunting you or just attacking you for the fun of it, wandering robots that were never turned off, and little floating bots broadcasting the glorious word of the Enclave and President Eden (amazingly voiced by Malcolm Macdowell). I remember the first thing that I did was go into a broken down school and fight off some Raiders with my sub-par equipment. I am still a little confused as to how I got out of there alive, but I was stunned. They took the game experience to a whole new level for me. I know some people call this game Oblivion 2.0, and I suppose that is partially true, but I think that Fallout 3 runs much better than Oblivion did. It's smooth and a little less chaotic, and it still manages to keep the basics of character creation from Fallout 2 which made that game such an individual experience to play.

One might think that an open ended game experience like that might be a little daunting, and that is very true. There are many locations in the game that one can visit, all with their own little stories which may or may not have anything to do with the main story of the game. There are numerous vaults, only three of which you ever actually need to enter. Quests are not a given and, outside of the story, not only do you have to find them by searching the Wasteland, you aren't guaranteed to win them. If you fail, that's it (unless you reload). Not only that, but even if you complete a mission the right way, it can still go wrong! I'll give you an example (possible spoiler ahead, but not really): there is a quest known as the Nuka-Cola Challenge. In this quest, you have to go get 30 bottles of Nuka-Cola for some broad out in the Wasteland with a fetish for the company. Living next door to her is some guy who wants to nail her, and he thinks that if you give him the Nuka-Cola, he'll finally be able to do so. I decided to give all my bottles to him (because I talked his price up with my speech), and once he had 30, he told me to come watch him put the moves on her. At this point, I completed the quest. Hoorah. I go outside of his house only to find that, in between his two second walk to the girl's house, he had encountered a giant scorpion, and I watched it kill him. (end spoiler) It's little things like that that make me happy. Granted, all quests have many ways to be solved, and I took some unorthodox methods in completely some of them, but that is by far and large my favorite outcome of any quest ever, and I think it says exactly what type of game Fallout 3 is.

So now you know what I love about it: everything. I truly adore the way the game runs, and I truly adore the experience I got out of it. I spent 53 and a half hours playing it and doing every little thing before I beat it, and the only reason I could afford to spend that much time on a game is because I do not have a job. After getting the game, I thought to myself how truly thankful I am that I am currently unemployed because it afforded me the time to really dive into this. Fallout 3 truly deserves the love and devotion you might put into a serious relationship, and if you are just getting into a serious relationship then stay away from Fallout 3. And I know exactly what people have as far as problems go in the game. Some people think it's too much of a leap from the style of game play in Fallout 2 that it's just not as fun. To this I wave my hand and say, "Pish posh. If anything, it is more fun!" I went back and replayed Fallout 2 in anticipation for the release of Fallout 3, and I found that while the basic elements of the game stood the test of time, the overall experience did not. I'm not penalizing it for graphics, but you have a 3D world that's 2D, and some things in the game are incredibly unclear. There were definite parts when I just was not sure what to do and had to ask the internet and my roommate (who had the game and had started before and was also consulting the internet for advice) on what to do. I legitimately think that Bethesda took the game and just made it all around better. Some people are also complaining about graphical glitches and freezes, but I only ever experienced one graphical glitch and I chalk that up to the fact that I play this game for 8 hour sits at a time. The XBOX is going to get hot and maybe get a little wonky after that.

So all in all, I think that if you don't play Fallout 3, and you are a fan of legit video gaming, then you are truly missing out. There is so much more I could say about this game, but if I did that then I'd probably be here 53 and a half hours explaining everything. This game comes with the highest stamp of approval I could ever give, and it has taken the spot for "All Time Favorite Game." I am going to be starting my second play through soon, and I'm going to be playing it in an all new way with a character who is truly the polar opposite of my last game, so I'm excited. But seriously - Fallout 3 is the only game you need this holiday season. There are other fun games out there, and I will review some, but all you really need is this.

The next review will probably be Mirror's Edge, so keep an eye out for that.

Will NXE Cause More Red Rings?

I know that I have made the NXE the subject of the past few entries and at this point it seems that it is without end (my box is still in transit to Texas). Trust me the NXE will probably stop being the topic of conversation once I get my hands back on my box (I'll have had proper fiddling time). And since I find it the topic of my thoughts whenever I am thinking about my Xbox, subjects like the one titled above are often what I come up with.

I know that a question such as, "Will the NXE cause more red rings," is a loaded question (seeing as, insert event here, always causes the red ring for an unlucky bunch of people) but allow me to explain. The real question here is will the NXE improve upon the average user play time with the console? With features such as Netflix and Parties, will we be spending more time overall on the user experience that the NXE is here to provide -Microsoft certainly hopes so. Plus, with this amazing library of games to play (looking at you Fallout), you can only count on more time gaming this holiday than not.

But seeing as games are somewhat of a no brainer (that's you Left 4 Dead) let's concentrate on Netflix.

My co-author of this blog is obsessed with the Netflix feature. He has already watched 10 movies (using this feature) and counting as I write this entry. He is arguably equally obsessed with gaming as I am (his gamescore is what it is in a much shorter period of time than it took myself to achieve mine) and this feature alone has him spending hours more time on his box than he already does. This fact alone leads me to believe that user spent time will be increased, at least, by a person remotely interested in movies.

For those out there that are not avid movie fanatics do not pick up Scene It? Box Office Smash. But seriously, for those who are more into the playing together aspect of the Xbox Experience, parties were built for you. Hop into a party and have voice chat with your best [gaming] friends without being in any of the same games. Use it as a conference call tool while you are not even using your Xbox. Drag your party to the game you are playing. Whatever the instance you need group chat for, you can probably accomplish it. I believe that this feature will cause longer conversations, longer multiplayer sessions, and yes more overall time with the 360 console.

So yes the NXE will probably cause more red rings but of course we will never see any numbers to prove this (or at least anything remotely conclusive). The reason I say this is because it is only a matter of time before your next red ring. We as Xbox owners know that the 360 is a blessing (great games in great numbers) and a curse (well that goes without saying). When my Xbox returns from this long long journey it will only be a matter of time before it happens again. What game, what event? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Game Review: Penny Arcade Episode 2

I have a mild form of ADD, in that I don't actually have ADD but I will occasionally let my mind slip focus anyway. I know that I said the first thing I'd really write was an epic review of Fallout 3, but then I went ahead and beat Penny Arcade Episode 2 and decided that, since it was fresh in mind I should sit down and write my thoughts on that. So fresh are my thoughts on it that it is like plucking a ripe apple from the most fruitful tree, meaning that I just beat it and the credits are currently playing as I type this review.

However, I did read this morning that there will be Fallout 3 DLC, and that is incredibly exciting. 3 new quests, and only one taking place in the same continuity as the game. This is especially cool because, while I love the demolished DC ruins, I was thinking about how exciting it would be to see other cities in the new world Bethesda created for Fallout, and the other two will take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Anchorage, Alaska respectively. While there is no word on how much it will cost, you can rest assured that I will pay no matter the price and, unlike with the DLC in Mass Effect, I promise that I will actually beat it!

So. On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 2. How did thee fare in the harsh reviewing system that is my nefarious and devious mind? I tend to charge games rather harshly, personally. While everyone was praising Gears of War and Far Cry, I was merely sitting on the sidelines and saying, "What's the big deal?" Grand Theft Auto IV remains unfinished because I quickly got tired of the game play style. I haven't even given Call Of Duty 4 a shot. However, a game like PAE2 earns my love and devotion while it seems to go unnoticed by most. I remember when the first installment came out and everyone seemed to love it. Unfortunately for the guys over at PA, they released their game at the worst possible time (against weeks filled with hot anticipated titles) and I fear that now this game has gone unnoticed. But not by I!

I played the original twice, once as a starkly mustachioed gentleman named Finnegan, and a second time to get all the achievements as an overweight and funny haired African American gentleman aptly named SirSwish. PAE2 allows you to import your previous character into the new game and it is with SirSwish that I decided to continue the tale. I feel this is the correct move because, as marvelous as Finnegan was, without a special attack called "Finnegan's Wake" I felt he was a wasted joke. SirSwish also had the max level and max Overkill bonuses allowed for in the previous game, so it was probably smart to start with him. PAE2 picks up almost exactly where the first left off, with SirSwish rebuilding his previously destroyed home. A cut scene shows what Gabe and Tycho have been up to, and they soon come for SirSwish, ruining his new home and recruiting him to once again help them solve a series of mysteries in order to stop a dark evil. Simple premise, complicated results. There is by far much more plot in this game, as well as resolution to most of the things brought up in PAE1. The two hands go in hand very well.

I'd like to start by talking about what I did not like. The first complaint I have is, "Wasn't this game supposed to be longer?" I beat the first game in a single sitting while my friend looked on. This game I took my time with, and I still beat it in less than 24 hours. This is upsetting to me. Granted, I will be playing it a second time (since, by beating it, I have unlocked Insane Mode, and playing through it normally makes it clear that the curious mind is going to have to play Insane Mode), but that doesn't excuse the amount of time it took me to beat it. I will take into the account that at the moment, I do not have a job, so I have all the time in the world to play the game, but that is also not an excuse for the game to be so short. The only excuse I will buy is that it is an XBOX Live Arcade game, but even then I would have liked a longer playing experience.

The next complaint I have is, "Why couldn't they fix the screen for those of us who don't have HDTVs?" This is a complaint I have for a lot of XBOX games (Dead Rising, anyone?), but I would really love to be able to read and see everything easily. There is a mild solution to this issue in the game with "Zoom Screen" option, in which I can pull the game's comic book panel towards me. This is not a proper fix it, though, because now portions of the game are cut off. Us poor and jobless folk would appreciate a more legitimate solution to this, please.

My third complaint is, "Why didn't they change the game play at all from the first game?" The only thing really different from the first game was the final boss (which I would also call fairly lack luster compared to the epic battle against Mimethulu at the end of the first game), but other than it's the same basic formula. You have basic attacks, special attacks, and items. The special attacks are new but not all that much better. The weapons are a little different, but still meh on the customization process. The items are new as well, but giving me a new type of grenade/bomb does not tide me over from wanting something more. With all of Tycho's talk about the dark arts, why can't we have some magic? I love shooting things and punching things, but can we have more than one weapon with the option for an upgrade for a character? One of the best things about RPGs is the ability to customize your player to suit your needs. We have the option of 3 new costumes in this game that give different perks, but that just doesn't cut it. I want Tycho to throw a fire ball at someone, and I want Gabe to have the option of using brass knuckles or perhaps the Right Hand of Doom (maybe even a cardboard tube?).

My final complaint is, "Why are the achievements so boring?" It really is not difficult to get 200 gamerscore on this game. Only one achievement actually takes time to get (which, of course, I did not get). The rest you can get by just playing the story or by looking at the achievement list. I liked how the first game had that horrific achievement "Silent, But Deadly" achievement, where you had to figure out an appropriate plan to beat the boss so you didn't use healing items. That mixed with "Immortal" (where you couldn't die) made for an interesting gaming experience. There is nothing like that in PAE2. I don't feel like I achieved much, even though I unlocked everything in the game possible. This is my smallest gripe with the game, of course, but still... come on, guys.

Now onto the things I like. I love the story: I mentioned this earlier, but it flows so well from the first game. There are also plenty of subplots to keep me intrigued and happy. There are 10 possible quests in the game, and having done them all, I can say that each one provides a great deal of pleasure to complete. This game thrives on it's ability to be story driven and it easily accomplishes that. I love the animation and graphics of the game: It's not too complicated and it's not to simple. It literally is perfect for the game. I love the character designs: I kind of want to shave my beard into mutton chops now because of Gabe, and that's not something I've wanted to do since I watched the X-Men movie and saw how awesome Hugh Jackman looked. I love the writing in the game: There are so many moments in the game where I burst out laughing. The Insane Asylum was definitely the highlight in exploring and reading every little thing (one crazy inmate believed himself to be the Prince of a town called Bel-Air) as well as finding little jokes that referenced lesser known subjects (did you know Eggplant Lincoln reached power level 10,000?). The dialogue between characters is hilarious, and this is where Tycho truly shines. He is a master wordsmith, I will give him that. He should get a writer's achievement or something to that extent.

So would I recommend PAE2? You're most definitely right I would. This is not the best game of the year nor is it a contender for that game, but if you played and liked the first one, then this is a worthy follow up. Even if you didn't play the first one, I'd say it's worth a play through (but why would you do that to yourself?). As I said earlier, I look forward to playing it a second time. Insane Mode looks promising, although it will be for another day. This is definitely not a game to forget about, though. The Penny Arcade series, when put all together, will make for quite a game. While I hope to see some more improvements in the next installment and more customization options, I understand I probably will not get it as that is not really the point of the game. I view my gripes as very minimal, although they appear to take up the bulk of the review. However, I really would stress that these do not deter from the game experience. Lame achievements? Big whoop. It is important to note a game's flaws in order to better appreciate what it excels at however, unless the game is perfect, which few games are.

On that note, it is time for me to kick back and watch another film on Netflix Instant Watch. Thank God for that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hello, faithful readers

Those who faithfully follow the writings contained in this digital tome will notice that, under contributors, two monikers appear. Up until now, you have the faithful writings of Nathanial. He has recently asked that I start contributing to his creation, and contribute I shall. However, I felt that before writing something of cohesive value, a brief paragraph introducing myself was in order. So greetings and salutations. My name is Matthew, and I will also be writing for you.

The popular topic of the moment is the NXE. I, for one, am not sure how I feel about this change so far. This is perhaps because like others, I do not believe I've taken full advantage of the abilities that it provides. Why, just today, I finally buckled down and purchased a Premium Theme (the Halo Wars theme, as I eagerly anticipate the arrival of this RTS experience). However, I have not deleted all of my 0 Achievement Score games, I have not participated in a party, and I have not installed any of my games to my hard drive. At most, I have created an avatar and allowed him to belch and spin his head around for a bit and, of course, taken full advantage of the Netflix addition. All this goes to show that I am not using this to the full potential even remotely.

However, I think that the NXE is a great thing. I love my avatar and I love looking at my friend's avatars. I currently have two costumes for him, one that looks like me and one that, according to Nate, looks nothing like anything I would ever wear (perhaps it was the monocle). I am really excited to put my avatar into games, and even gave it a shot in Kingdom For Keflings (which I did not care for). It's weird, but for some reason I just like looking at the menus now too. I'll scroll through all the menus looking at nothing in particular. It is possible that in this case I am merely like a cat being fascinated at the shiny prize in front of my eyes, but the NXE is incredibly visually appealing. There will always be lazy people like me who accept the changes put forth and just smile and nod at the little things, but it is important to note that Microsoft has even managed to capture my attention. I could have lived without the update, sure, but now that it's here, I definitely turn my XBOX on more often.

The other big thing for me is Netflix. Since getting Netflix on my XBOX, I have watched 10 movies and the entire fourth season of The Office. I have complaints about the quality of the video, but honestly, I feel that if you can push past the first five minutes of a film, your eyes will begin to adjust appropriately and it will no longer be an issue. The only movie I had difficulty watching was Paris, Je T'aime because the subtitles were a bit hard to read. At times it was because the subtitles were in white and against a bright background, but at other times it was simply because of the quality of the video. I wish this was something that would be corrected because I missed full lines of dialogue, but I doubt this will be fixed, and I am now apprehensive to watch foreign films because of this. However, I do have a normal Netflix account, so I could always just get a DVD if it bothered me that much. If I can offer some recommendations, however, I would say that it would be in everyone's best interest to take a look at the films Confessions Of A Superhero, Gone Baby Gone, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and Being There. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to watch these movies and many more, so kudos to Microsoft and Netflix on a great idea for a partnership.

The only major complaint I have as of the moment is that, for whatever reason, I can no longer play Fable II easily. It constantly freezes and crashes. I am not sure if this is due to the NXE or not (as I can not see how the issue could correlate), but it is slightly aggravating as I have not yet beaten the game and would like to see one of the endings.

That just about wraps up my limited thoughts on the NXE. I feel that when I write, I will mostly contribute reviews of games. With that thought in mind, Penny Arcade Episode 2 calls to me to play it. I will, however, return at a later date to write my thoughts on Fallout 3, which I spent a total of 53 and a half hours playing and absolutely adoring. If I could date a video game, that game would be Fallout 3, and I will explain why soon.

I Hope And Pray for the Xbox Brand

Every day I have my silent wishes for the Xbox brand. I hope that all of their decisions are the right ones and I cringe with every piece of bad PR. As I may or may not have said before, my Xbox is part of who I am and the games that I play. Over these past three years (more if you want to count the original Xbox) I have become Xbox's cheerleader, salesperson, and all around Xbox know how guy.

I make it my business to know the ins and outs of my console, for my benefit and for any others with questions.

The question of the NXE (pronounced 'nix-IE') being the right choice is one that comes to mind. I personally feel, along with many others, that the NXE was right choice. As the point has been driven home to its very death, the NXE has something to offer both of its audiences. The guide is built for the mainstay hardcore crowd, touting such features and zero gamerscore deletion and quick launch, and the cover-flow inspired dashboard is built for the up-and-coming casual crowd (avatars, pretty to look at, etc). The reason I feel that this is the right choice is because it really does not leave anyone alienated (unless you find yourself to be one of the irate, nit picky folk that just need to complain to hear yourselves complain). Everyone on my friends list has, shamefully or not, created an avatar (with the exception of one of my friends who was also the victim of a red ringing- without a back-up plan (as I had)- which always sucks). The only question 'left 2 see' is weather or not it will catch onto the casual crowd or not? Do you think that the Wii has already captured it completely with no intention of letting go or do you think that the Xbox can convert a few?

These things are honestly what I think/worry about and though I know I am not alone I do not want to believe that I am the only one rooting for the infinite life of the Xbox 360. So if by some chance you are reading this and are on the fence about buying an Xbox you have my full fledged support and I promise you that you will not regret your purchase.