Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tell Me Of The Champion

If you listened to our latest podcast wherein we recounted the best and the worst of last year you’ll also recall that Lynsey and I named our most anticipated games of 2011. Yesterday, the demo to my most anticipated game went live:

Aw yeah.

Now Andraste knows I’ve touted my love of Dragon Age: Origins on this blog many times before. It’s the best, most immersive RPG I’ve ever played and the one I’ve spent the most time with. That is, with the notable exception of World of Warcraft but I unlike WoW, it was the story of Dragon Age that kept me so wonderfully entertained and despite the fact that I’ve played through that game 4 complete times, I could sit down right now and start it all over again.

Having said that, I have a feeling that Dragon Age 2 is going to make me wonder why I loved Origins as much as I did.

Using vastly improved graphics, I was immediately thrown into battle and amazed at how good it felt. For my first play through I may actually have a difficult time deciding what class to play because although I love being a mage, the rogue is just so badass looking. The standard attacks are varied like they were in Origins and look incredible – it’s stunning to watch Hawke knock an enemy down with her shield and then rush at them before they can get back up.

All the action flows so seamlessly it’s mesmerizing.

The other drastic change is the dialogue system and while I enjoyed the lengthy options in Origins the shorter, voiced choices in Dragon Age 2 is pretty awesome. It has me really excited for the epic story that’s undoubtedly coming.

I could really just go on and on and on about the demo but I’ll save that for the full review once I complete the actual game.

March 8th seriously cannot come fast enough.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Got Any Tango?

You're talking about it. Your friends are talking about it. Your parents are talking about it. Your professor is talking about it. Your boss is talking about it. Your favorite barista is talking about it.

Now, we're talking about it:

Gorgeous, emotional, and effective.

What more can really be said except for if Dead Island turns out to be half as good as this trailer we're all in for a treat. Then again, is it really possible that an open-world, RPG zombie game could be bad?

Wait . . . what am I saying . . . no, it's fine, I'm sure I didn't just jinx it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You Can't Push It Underground

The time is almost upon us, friends. Time for masses of nerds to flock to Boston for the Penny Arcade Expo. A few days ago, the official schedule of events was released and since Lynsey and I are about to burst from excitement, we thought we'd post the info of the sessions we're definitely attending via the official PAX East site:

PAX East 2011 Keynote: Jane McGonigal

Main Theatre - Friday, 10:30am - 11:30am

You may know her work from the I Love Bees ARG that launched with a little game called Halo 2. You may also have seen her speech or read her book ("Reality is Broken") where she describes gamers as being uniquely equipped to save the world. She's super smart and has a lot of really interesting things to say about gaming, and we're super excited to have her here.

A Live Demonstration of RAGE

Wyvern Theatre - Friday, 1:30pm - 2:30pm

Join Design Director Matt Hooper and Senior Producer Jason Kim for a live demonstration of RAGE, the groundbreaking new first-person shooter from id. Set in the not-too-distant future after an asteroid impacts Earth, you emerge into a vast and ravaged wasteland to discover humanity struggling to survive the deadly threat of bandit gangs, mutants, and the Authority – an oppressive government regime that has a special interest in you in particular. Featuring intense first-person shooter action, breakneck vehicle combat, an expansive world to explore and jaw-dropping graphics powered by id’s revolution.

Interactive Drama: Dialogue as Gameplay

Cat Theatre - Friday, 2:00pm - 3:00pm

Do narrative games provide dialogue choices that enhance gameplay? Is it important to develop relationships through interactive choices between player and non-player characters? How are interactive conversation choices designed and how important is the user interface? What does it mean to experience Interactive Drama in a gameplay mechanic of dialogue choices?

FRAG Movie Screening

Naga Theatre - Friday, 9:30pm - 10:30pm

As a documentary covering the lives of pro-gamers, FRAG sheds light on the world of pro-gaming. Pro-gamers, referred to as cyber-athletes, face the same problems that professional athletes face, making decisions that can affect them for the rest of their lives. As gaming spreads not only as a hobby, but as a profession, FRAG reveals some of the secrets behind one of the biggest sports industries in the world that many know nothing about. Judd Saul plans to be on hand after the screening to sell videos/answer questions as well.

Females on Female Characters

Wyvern Theatre - Saturday, 3:00pm - 4:00pm

Join Susan Arendt, Senior Editor of The Escapist; Kathleen de Vere, star of LoadingReadyRun; AJ Glasser, News Editor of GamePro; and Lisa Foiles, star of Lisa Foiles Top 5; as they discuss what they embrace in female fictional characters and why these attributes are important. They will identify their favorite characters and how they would like more heroines with similar attributes integrated into Geek culture. This fresh, positive approach to female characters shouldn’t be missed.

The "Other" Us: If We're All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter?

Naga Theatre - Saturday, 6:30pm - 7:30pm

Abbie Heppe's review of Metroid: Other M prompted a wave of backlash across the gaming community. Words like "feminist" got thrown around in comments sections of popular gaming sites as if it were the new "f" word. But what is really feminist versus what is perceived as feminist by virtue of the fact that it comes from a woman’s perspective? Using these reactions as a jumping off point, a panel of gamers, journalists, and members of the industry will look at the ways gender is treated in gaming culture at large. In our debate and discussion of Abbie's review, we'll be looking at the larger question: "As our industry becomes more progressive and, arguably, gender-blind, is geek and gamer culture regressing?

One of Us

IGDA Dev Center - Sunday, 12:00pm - 12:50pm

Are people surprised to learn that you're a gamer? Do the clerks at the Local Generic Game Retailer ignore you when you shop? If they do talk to you, do they assume you're shopping for something with more pink on the box? Or worse, ask you if you're buying a game for your son or boyfriend? Gamers who do not fit the stereotypical image of the hardcore gamer often feel left out in the cold. Our panel of game writers and hardcore gamers discuss the obstacles to acceptance they've faced and their strategies for coping with them.

What'ca think, guys? Sound good? Are we missing something you're excited for?

Friday, February 4, 2011

We're All Gonna Burn

Sequels are bound to bring about anxiety.

Fanboys and girls alike all know the feeling of sitting down to the next installment of something they greatly loved and far too often are then left with a feeling of disappointment. After all, for every “Aliens” and “Terminator 2” there are a dozen “Star Wars: Episode 1” and “Batman and Robin”.

It was understandably strange when I realized that all of the usual trepidations weren’t present when I thought about Dead Space 2.

The first game has been raved about enough on this site so I’ll spare you what you’re bound to already know. Yes, yes, Dead Space was a marvel of survival horror. What’s really awesome is that its sequel is also a spectacle to behold. Even – dare I say it – better than the original.

Before you gawk and vow to never read this site again allow me to explain. Let us consider the few flaws that Dead Space had: One, the errand boy, backtracking telling of the main story. Something breaks, you fix it, something else breaks, you fix it, something else breaks and you destroy it in a monotony-induced rage. Or, you fix it. It got old and Visceral got the message. Throughout all my time in The Sprawl I can only remember one instance when I had to go back to the same area to finish an objective. Aside from that one occurrence, every area both looked and felt different.

Two, the melee attacks. Yes, it may seem like a small detail to some but personally, I didn’t use Isaac’s punch and stomp to kill an enemy once in the original game. This tended to be a problem when a necromorph was quite literally breathing down your neck and a second to compose yourself or, say, quick heal, meant the difference between moving on or reloading from the last checkpoint. This time around, Isaac’s attacks are much more precise and almost worth letting a slasher try and slice your head off. Well, maybe not but it was still a vast improvement over the last game. Not to mention the ability to have our illustrious hero repeatedly stomp while muttering, “die you motherfucker!” was pretty fantastic.

Third, poorly planned events. Take, for instance, the infamous asteroid defense scene in the original. You got to take a break from shooting the horrific re-animated bodies of your former friends and colleagues to defend the ship against a ridiculous and unending wave of asteroids. To this day, I’ve never spoken to a single person who didn’t loathe that sequence. Now, is it fair to bring the game down because of one scene? In this case, I’d say so. Go on, talk to anyone you know who’s played Dead Space and I guarantee that after the praise the first thing they’ll mention is “that damned asteroid sequence”. There were also several scenes that involved you having to fumble around with the real-time menu to consume an air can before you asphyxiated. Dead Space 2 has no scenes requiring you to search around for an air can or shoot asteroids or anything even remotely similar. With the exception of one chain of events toward the very end of the game involving a particular enemy type that may have done its job a little too well, the game is very evenly paced.

Four, a silent hero. Unlike the original, Dead Space 2 gave Isaac a voice and personality. Whereas in the first game the most we got out of him was a shake of his head to convey emotion, this time we get full-on conversations with other protagonists, antagonists, and himself. Isaac is cocky, confident, troubled and quick to anger. The voice work is superb and it gave way to the unexpected joy of Ellie, another survivor on The Sprawl who is not only one of the best female characters I’ve seen in a game in a long, long time but who also provided Isaac with some much needed support and even a few laughs.

Love you, Ellie.

So when I take into consideration these facts plus the absolutely breathtaking graphics (even if it did require the Xbox version to be on two discs), the duel stories of The Marker and Isaac’s grief over Nicole, the amazing soundtrack and audio effects, the mixture of cheap and psychological scares including one very, very memorable trip down memory lane and some crazy smart AI, I stand by my declaration:

The original Dead Space was incredible.

The sequel is a freakin’ masterpiece.