Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just A Quick Update

I did, in fact, pick up a copy of Dead Island. I haven't finished the game, and probably won't for a while. I will say right off the bat that the game has proven to be a relatively significant disappointment - if I do decide to continue playing, it will likely be solely to get enough notes to write an actual review.

In the meantime, I picked up both Gears of War 3 and Dark Souls and am enjoying them both thus far. Apart from leveling my rogue alt (like I've said before, I don't want this blog to become about WoW) I haven't been playing much of anything, so I'm really looking forward to this weekend when I'll be able to dive right into Dark Souls. Though diving into a game like Dark Souls may not actually be all that smart. I suppose it's okay, though; I didn't really want to sleep for the next month anyway... /sarcasm

The little bit of Dark Souls I've played already has succeeded in getting me to a level of giddiness I haven't reached in quite a while. Looking back at my (minimal) posting thus far, I do realize that the only actual review I've posted was of Demon's Souls. I know, it kinda sucks to get bogged down on only ever talking about souls of various types, but the fact of the matter is that the games are truly incredible. So, suck it up, and wait a few more days. My Gears review shouldn't take too much longer after DS.

Strongly considering buying some sort of PVR (HD if possible/within budget) so I can add video clips to my written reviews, or maybe even venture into the world of straight-up video reviews. A wildly popular Youtube channel isn't my immediate goal; at this point I've literally never even uploaded anything there. Regardless, I recognize the value of the site, and the added entertainment value of video reviews. These are all still just thoughts rolling around in my otherwise relatively empty head, but we'll see how they all pan out.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Ball Stopped Rolling! :(

It's been quite a long time since I wrote anything here. I feel awful about that for a number of reasons, but instead of going into that and opening up an unnecessarily large can of worms, I'll just say that I'm back, and hopefully will be blogging regularly for the foreseeable future. What I can do is offer some lame excuses for my extended absence, not the least of which being that I've spent FAR too much time lately playing World of Warcraft. It's a vice of mine, for sure, and technically falls within the realm of gaming. Meaning I could have been writing about that this whole time. But really, that's not why I started this blog. I don't want to be a WoW blog. I want to be able to voice my opinion on new and upcoming games from all genres and platforms, and all that jazz. Turning it into a WoW blog really sucks all the life out of it. Regardless, a veritable onslaught of quality gaming is right around the corner. Once October comes, we're going to be in SRS BZNSS.
I also find it somewhat ironic, looking back, that even though a good chunk of this blog's life thus far has to do with Dead Island, and yet here I sit two days after the game's release with no copy to my name. I'll probably pick it up soon, maybe even this afternoon, simply to have something to review. Though if my peers in the game-reviewing world know what they're talking about, I'm afraid I'm going to be disappointed.
At any rate, it feels good to be back writing...or at least typing...again. The creative juices are flowing, and the part of my brain which controls writing is shaking off the dust, and climbing out from under the part of my brain which controls everything WoW related. I do have a raid on Friday though, so I'm hoping they won't start to bicker...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Long Overdue Review of Demon's Souls

I got my PS3 as a Christmas gift in 2009. Around that time, Game of the Year honors were being bestowed on deserving titles. Gamespot wisely gave the nod that year to From software's Demon's Souls, and I picked it up on a whim the next day. If only I had known what I was getting myself into, I likely would have picked up a copy of MGS4 and called it a day. Though, after many long hours of frustration and a respectable number of ragequits, I finally realize how glad I am to have pressed on through to the end. Demon's Souls is no doubt a difficult adventure, but what you're left with at its conclusion is a sense of accomplishment and childish giddy wonderment unparalleled by any game in recent memory.

Most everyone in the gaming community remembers a different age of video games--a ruthless era in which after a precious few attempts were exhausted, (usually in the form of "lives") it was game over. And game over wasn't always as forgiving as it is now. Demon's Souls harkens back to those days in a magnificent and beautiful way. Enemies' attacks are absolutely brutal. Apart from the first level training dummies, pretty much any enemy in this game can be your undoing. We've been trained over the years to see any soldier that doesn't look like a total badass as a pushover. Demon's Souls retrains that part of your brain, or at least it should if you hope to succeed. Even an unassuming, weak looking soldier could have some trick up his sleeve that will make short work of an unprepared player. I must stress: this is not a game to rush through. Each encounter is a full scale battle, and if you don't approach it with care, you're probably going to end up dead.

As a matter of fact, players should expect to die quite often in Demon's Souls. It's a natural part of the game. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the most important aspects of the game. Each death is a learning experience. Despite what you may have heard, nothing about this game is "cheap" per se. At worst, you'll encounter something unexpected, die, maybe cry for a bit, then get back in the game knowing that something's waiting for you around that corner, or that there's a hole in the floor in that one really dark area you rushed into last time.

Okay, that's enough about how hard it is. As important as that is to stress, it can't be fun to read about. It's a tough game, you've been warned. On to simpler things. Story-wise, Demon's Souls is relatively weak. It's pretty much a generic 'evil has taken over the world because somebody screwed something up, and we need you to fix it by killing a bunch of bad guys' narrative, and you shouldn't expect many surprises or cool plot twists to spice it up. The characters are pretty shallow, and voice acting tends to be sub-par, but for a Japanese port I'd say it's not too shabby. None of that should really bother you, though, and even though it may seem that these shortcomings should take away from the experience, it's still very possible to immerse yourself in the world of Boletaria. Again, I'm trying not to dwell on the difficulty too much, but it really becomes a factor in feeling like you're a part of the world. Every second of Demon's Souls feels like a desperate struggle against insurmountable odds. It's a different experience from most games nowadays in that you're just an ordinary person who's been flung into chaos and forced to fight to save the world. Oh, and in case you missed it, the keyword there is ordinary. But legit ordinary, not like you thought you were ordinary but OH how convenient you have this secret power and now go save humanity.

Onto gameplay. Demon's Souls excels in plenty of areas, and in my opinion the place it shines brightest is in combat. Occasional annoyances with the lock-on feature are just that; annoying, but they only rarely detract from the action. Whether you fight with melee weapons, magic, or a bow and arrow, all your attacks feel like they have weight to them, and are complemented by great sound effects and even better (and incredibly varied) animations. Even so, combat always has a looming feeling of tension around it. You really need to know what weapon you are using and how it behaves in order to succeed. Knowing when to go in for an attack, when to block with your shield, when to try for the deadly parry-riposte combo, and when to dodge altogether is the most important thing in the game, and learning all of this can only come through lots of playtime and experience. Which, in this case likely also means lots of death.

Demon's Souls isn't the best game I've ever played. It's pretty darn close though. It's lackluster story and characters are more than made up for with exceptional combat and immersion. It's punishing difficulty can easily be a turn-off for less disciplined gamers, but those who take the plunge and suppress their short tempers for long enough will be rewarded greatly.
Obligatory 10 point scale score: 9.5

Friday, March 4, 2011

More Dead Island

I really didn't ever intend for this blog to be a one trick pony, and I promise it won't be for much longer. But, after seeing this article, I felt I needed to post a response. Needless to say, I'm kinda bummed. Pretty much everything I said about the game needing to be very reminiscent of the INCREDIBLE reveal trailer has pretty much been thrown out the window. I suppose I should take it in perspective and say that yes, it still sounds like a game I'll enjoy, and one I'll likely pick up on launch day. However, I think it's safe to say that Techland's shot at game of the year honors is relatively small now. Oh well. Then again, did they ever really have much of a chance? Seems I forgot about some of the amazing titles headed our way this year. Here's a few I'm particularly hyped up for, and will likely be writing about in the coming weeks.

Whew. Went a bit crazy there, and even so I'm sure I left out a few key titles that I'll be hyped up for when the time comes. What can I say, 2011 is looking like a fantastic year for gamers. For our wallets? Not quite as fantastic. But they'll get over it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Dead Island

The latest trailer for Techland's upcoming zombie slasher surfaced a few weeks ago, to the delight of gamers everywhere. I have to say, for me, this is the BEST trailer I have ever seen for any video game. Ever. In case you've been living under a rock for a good long while, here's the trailer I'm referring to.
A little warning: It's got some pretty graphic violence, so viewer discretion is advised, yada yada.
So, what does this trailer tell us? Obviously, it's set in a resort on some tropical island. Hopefully (and I have found this to be true with additional research) we won't be playing as the family in the trailer, since they seem to be having a pretty rough time with the zombie outbreak and such. Speaking of which, there is obviously a pretty big zombie infestation to handle on the island, and the zombie-ness (virus, undead-ness, whatever causes one to become a zombie?) spreads through the classic bite (maybe through other means as well though) and takes effect rather quickly, as evidenced by the little girl's rapid transformation. Other than these things, without looking through it frame by frame with a magnifying glass, we can't determine much with absolute certainty. The trailer features no firearms, which is unusual in zombie games. After some searching (it was a long, hard search, but I eventually came across this site called Wikipedia...amazing stuff there) I found that the game is intended to be focused primarily on first person melee combat. It's not like that's never been done before; in Left 4 Dead 2, Valve focused on making melee combat a somewhat viable option in certain situations. I remember, from the little bit of that game that I played, enjoying swinging a katana and hacking off limbs left and right, so I think this could potentially be a fantastic decision. Let's go over why.

Melee combat seems much more realistic. After all, this zombie outbreak isn't one that people prepared for like in Left 4 Dead. In those games, the outbreak has been going on for a while, and survivors have adapted accordingly, leaving stashes of weapons and ammunition in safe houses for any others who may pass through. Likewise, we aren't playing in an Uber-mall, or in the middle of a pseudo-Las Vegas like the Dead Rising games, so we can't expect to find a gun store, or some of the more effective weapons like lawnmowers and the like. No, in a regular tourist resort, one would be lucky to find a fire axe as the father does in the trailer. As such, finding new items to beat zombies down--or at least shoo them away--with seems like a much more likely endeavor than happening upon a random M16 and immediately knowing how to use it with enough finesse to survive hordes of hungry undead. Lucky you!

Melee combat also ups the tension, and the sense of desperation portrayed in the trailer. Which, God-willing will be preserved for the game. Anyways, it seems to me that standing back a good distance and taking potshots at zombie heads not only has been done over and over and over ad nauseam, but it really takes away from the immersion. This, in a sense, goes hand in hand with the realism factor. The way I see it, certain games aim to be straight up fun. That's how I feel most zombie killing games are approached. The trailer for Dead Island, however, has more depth than any other game in the genre I've ever seen. The trailer portrays the game as more of a desperate struggle for survival against insurmountable odds. Using that as a cornerstone instead of the generic "here's a gun, there's some zombies, shoot shoot shoot" formula can provide a much more meaningful, memorable, and altogether enjoyable experience for the player. Not only would it be better if they preserve the desperate mood of the trailer for the whole game, at this point, I think it would be a disservice to us if they didn't. When you put out a trailer like that, with all kinds of emotion and struggle, you can't follow it up with a product that doesn't resemble it at all. For Techland to bring such a beautiful trailer to us, and then follow it up with just another lighthearted zombie killfest would be like a slap in the face. So, in conclusion, here are some things that I think Dead Island will need to have and excel in.

-An engaging story. This is a must, especially since even without any dialogue the trailer managed to create a story of its own. Though none of them talked, the characters all seemed real. Like they were an actual family, fighting to stay alive, and tragically failing to do so. It was a moving story, and it only took 3 minutes to tell.

-Despite my rambling on and on about depth being the most important thing to preserve from the trailer, I will admit that combat is every bit as important. The reason I haven't talked much about the importance of the combat is because, again, it's always necessary, and has been done in every game. That being said, combat will play a huge role in this game. It needs to feel intense and hopefully a bit scary every time you see a zombie. It also, however, needs to be a playable game, so hopefully Techland is hard at work finding a good balance between making the game frustratingly difficult and too easy to preserve the tension from the trailer.

-Skills. Again, Wikipedia came through on this one. Another interesting thing I found out about Dead Island that may not be immediately apparent is that it is going to have some RPG elements to it as well. As you progress through the game, you will become better at many things, likely all related to surviving and killing. That sense of progression sort of ties in with the realism as well; starting off in a hotel room fighting off a zombie with a plunger isn't going to be enough to help you through an entire island. Thankfully, though, like in the real world, practice makes perfect, right? Not only will you find something more suitable than a plunger for dispatching the undead, but you should get a better sense of how to use these items to your advantage. So, we know skills and weapon upgrades will be a part of the game, but why include them here? Well, I think Dead Island needs to "excel" in it's RPG elements because that is one of the most immediately obvious things that sets it apart from similar games. Dead Rising 2 brought some serious weapon upgrades to the table, but not really any skill advancement other than increasing base stats. Another game in the genre, somewhat similar to Left 4 Dead, is Killing Floor, and it excels in skill progression. When you play as a certain class, there are ways to level it up that are tailored to how that class plays. Likewise, the rewards for leveling up are tailored to the playstyle of the class. For instance, a sharpshooter class requires a certain number of headshots to level up, and when the class goes up a level, you get a damage bonus for sniper rifles. This is a fun system, but there isn't any weapon upgrading to speak of other than buying new guns and equipment. What's different about Dead Island is that it promises both, and, if it can deliver on that promise, it can be a truly special game. Also, regarding skills, I can really only say that I'd prefer things other than just straight stat bonuses. I hope that Techland will put some thought into it, and make sure each skill point makes a noticeable difference. Better yet, since it's all melee combat anyway, give us skill points that actually unlock new skills. Like a spin attack or a new combo or something like that. Personally, I'm tired of leveling up to only get 3% increased damage with all weapons. That's kind of a buzzkill.

Well, that's about all there is to say on the subject of Dead Island for now. At this point, I'll call it like I see it; If the final product manages to be reminiscent of the trailer in its mood and depth, but can still deliver balanced melee combat through an engaging story, it has a great shot at GOTY 2011.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Getting the Ball Rolling

I'm sitting in my dorm room, thinking long and hard about what I want from life, and how to go about getting what I want. It's been a profound few days for me, and I feel as though I've made a lot of progress in figuring out where my true passions lie, and what effect those passions have on my life outside of simple hangout time. I love video games. Probably a bit too much, honestly. At least, that's what I've always thought, and what I've always been told. It wasn't until just recently that I had an epiphany about the gaming industry--there are people that work in it.

WAIT. BACK UP. You mean...I could do something related to video games...for a JOB? FOR MONEY? I'm SO in.

That was basically my thought process, less a few of my more poignant thoughts on the subject. All I really know at this point is that I want to be the guy that goes to E3 and interviews developers of big upcoming games and gets to walk the floor and demo all the latest and greatest titles. I want to witness that spectacle, and I want to tell other people about it. I want to be the guy that gets an advance copy of a game, plays it, and then gives a brutally honest opinion about it so consumers will know whether that game they've been hyped up for is actually going to turn out to be a steaming pile of crap. And, perhaps most importantly, I want to work in an environment surrounded by people who share my passion. I want to have a career that I'm genuinely happy to be a part of. That's the true definition of success, in my opinion. Doing what you love is far more important than doing what gets you a huge paycheck. So yes, I could go on in my dreadfully boring Engineering major, or I could change majors to something like accounting or another business related field where corporate possibilities are limitless. Or, I could strive for what I love. I could become what I've always wanted to be.

All that being said, I realize that one does not simply walk into video game journalism. It's a long road, and a tough one. One filled with stress and probably a fair share of menial freelance writing until there's a chance to get noticed by someone. I felt as though a blog would be a good way to start my journey, and here I am. So. To clarify, this is not a blog about me (despite seeming that way for this first post). I will be writing reviews on any new games I pick up, and previewing titles that I'm excited for. I'll try to spice it up every once in a while with an editorial or something off the wall too, but expect everything you see here to be about games.

So, with that, I will say welcome to Level Up. My blog about gaming. I hope to be posting some reviews of games I'm currently playing soon. Not that anyone is reading this yet. We'll get there though. :)