Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 10 of 2010 - Part III

Part I
Part II

--- 3 ---

Red Dead Redemption
Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: Rockstar San Diego/North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: May 18th, 2010

Red Dead Redemption transferred what made Grand Theft Auto so great into a Western setting. The result is possibly the best Western game of the past decade. With jaw dropping scenery like that taken out of a painting, RDR offered an open world filled with bandits, runaway trains, and classic shootouts. The campaign's story and colorful cast of characters pulled you into the world itself. Simply put, you felt like an outlaw.

If the story wasn't enough, the multiplayer would be as numerous options were at your disposal. Deathmatch, capture the flag, co-operative missions, and even horse races were slowly opened up over the year to give good reason to explore the world with a friend. Top if off with a zombie apocalypse DLC, and you have one of the best titles of the year.

Though the missions became a bit repetitive as the game trailed on, nothing could beat riding off into the sunset shooting a revolver at wanted outlaws.

---- 2 ----

Starcraft II
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: July 27th, 2010

Starcraft II was over 10 years in the making, and the wait was well worth it. I personally steer clear of RTS games, but Starcraft II slapped me in the face and said, "Trust me dude, you'll like this." The reason the game is so high on my list is the way it is tailored to both pros and noobs alike. The campaign is insanely fun, and while acting as training for online play, offers multiple upgrades and morality choices warranting continuous play. Instead of a typical structure, each mission played differently and variety was consistent. Not to mention the voice acting and story sucked me in immediately.

When the campaign was finished, the multiplayer gave more than its fair share of enjoyment. 1v1 to 3v3 battles were incredible to behold, as giant masses of armies would clash in the center. Recorded games could be viewed to see how your enemy got the upperhand, and can get extremely detailed down to every APM(action per minute). Most importantly, the system handled matchmaking much more efficiently, ensuring you were up against people your own speed.

I am usually not a big fan of RTS games, but Starcraft II was anything but a typical RTS. The game was gorgeous, challenging, and incredibly satisfying.

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Mass Effect 2
Xbox 360, PC, (PS3 in Jan)
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Release Date: January 26th, 2010

There was one game I continually revisited during the year to play, and that game was Mass Effect 2. Instead of taking the route of a typical sequel, ME2 scrapped the formula of the first game and reinvented a new game. Combat was faster and much more satisfying, visuals were sharper, and worlds were different and never repeated. Even the god awful Mako travel from the first was thrown out completely. It wasn't just Mass Effect 2.0, it was a different experience altogether.

The most impressive feat was the game's import feature. Importing your character from the first game not only netted a few bonuses and kept your look, but brought all of your past decisions with them. Did the Council survive? Did you save the Rachni queen? Each is accounted for in this game, and gives off this ominous feeling that they will come into play in the third installment as well. The thought of a small decision in the first carrying over two games is mind blowing, and all the more reason to actually keep the first installment.

It didn't hurt that Mass Effect 2's story and characters were just as interesting as the first, and answered many questions while raising a few new ones. Every decision made had such an impact into the final portion of the game, that failure to know your squad could cost some their lives. You actually felt like a commander at the end, issuing orders and making important decisions. The consistent DLC through the year was of equal quality, with Lair of the Shadow Broker being a must-have for a glimpse at what could come in Mass Effect 3.

It was an insanely fun experience with a very high replay value to try out all of the different classes and moral decisions. Mainly, it was the game I continually popped back into my Xbox this year to relive over and over; which is why it remains my top game of 2010.

Top 10 of 2010 Rundown
1. Mass Effect 2
2. Starcraft II
3. Red Dead Redemption
4. Donkey Kong Country: Returns
5. God of War III
6. Call of Duty: Black Ops
7. Halo: Reach
8. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
9. Splinter Cell: Conviction

Note: These are only games I have spent time on to fully play through and enjoy. With plenty of other titles missed along the way, don't feel distraught if you don't see your personal favorites on the list. I'm sure I'd love them too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 of 2010 - Part II

Part 1 can be found here.

Halo: Reach
Xbox 360
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: September 14th, 2010

Hailed as the last of Halo we shall see for a while, Halo: Reach keeps the fun of the series alive. With the addition of new "abilities" for each class, the game has changed and been given an identity all its own. The same addicting multiplayer is refined with more playlists and daily challenges. With a solid campaign to tie it all together, Reach is a fine addition to any FPS addict's collection.

Call of Duty: Black Ops
PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 9th, 2010

Call of Duty struck hard once again this year with Black Ops. Treyarch took what made the previous games enjoyable and attached a whole bunch of goodies with them. A Michael Bay inspired Campaign, refined multiplayer, zombie survival shooter, dead ops arcade, and even ZORK are shoved into this one disc. As far as games go, this was one where you got your money's worth and then some.

- 5 -
God of War III
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: March 16th, 2010

God of War III gave some of the most jaw dropping visuals gaming has ever seen. The sheer scale of the world you explored and the enemies you dismembered was incredible. Taking Kratos through Hades and back again was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and one of the most memorable single player experiences of the year. From start to finish, it was hard to put the controller down as each world you entered felt more polished than the last. It was satisfyingly brutal, a sight to behold, and one of the best action/adventure games of the year.

-- 4 --
Donkey Kong Country: Returns
Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: November 21st, 2010

Donkey Kong Country: Returns was like a nolstagic feeling slapping me in the face and throwing me down a pit. The music, platforming, and cartoonish style of the game all fit together for a total package. Each level had its own unique touch to it, with the action in the backdrop giving a great amount of depth to each stage. Much like set pieces in a 3D shooter, the pieces in Donkey Kong were memorable, insanely fun, and made finishing a level that much more satisfying. Most importantly, it was a throwback to a more unforgiving time of gaming, where extra lives were precious and timing is everything. Nintendo should just keep throwing any old titles toward Retro Studios, as they clearly know how to revive them.

Third and Final installment tomorrow for my Top 10 of 2010.

Note: These are only games I have spent time on to fully play through and enjoy. With plenty of other titles missed along the way, don't feel distraught if you don't see your personal favorites on the list. I'm sure I'd love them too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 of 2010 - Part 1

Xbox 360 Arcade
Developer: Playdead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: July 21st, 2010

The Xbox Live arcade had its fair share of stellar titles, and none amazed me more than Limbo. This simple platformer was given a unique look and style, with incredibly complex puzzles to boot. The overall atmosphere and presentation of the game, stuck with me long after its completion. There is no other arcade game quite like Limbo.

Splinter Cell: Conviction
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: April 13th, 2010

Splinter Cell came out of its element, taking a more action oriented approach in comparison to the typical stealthy path. The result is a fast-paced roller coaster of Sam Fisher raising hell. With an insanely satisfying "mark and execute" ability, it never got old to engage the enemy as Sam lined up each shot with a simple tap of the button. Tack on a surprisingly well-done co-operative mode online, and Splinter Cell: Conviction delivered a fresh take on a long standing series.

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 16th, 2010

What looked like a simple expansion of the second game became anything but, as Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood took the fight online. The simple, yet satisfying multiplayer only boosted the replay value of the game. The single player still maintained its core appeal of platforming around the new city of Rome, which turned out to be much larger than the maps of previous AC games. The new features gave it a feel all its own, and added another stellar game to the already impressive series.

Part II coming in the very near future

Note: These are only games I have spent time on to fully play through and enjoy. With plenty of other titles missed along the way, don't feel distraught if you don't see your personal favorites on the list. I'm sure I'd love them too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top 10 Gaming Commercials of 2010

Gran Turismo 5

It's not a list if you don't include Kevin Butler, VP of whatever game he is selling. The laugh from him at 0:20, made this an immediate favorite.

Mass Effect 2

A brief glimpse at the various party members was enough to have people setting who would be their main team members for Mass Effect 2.

Dante's Inferno 

Dante's Inferno had one of the first commercials out there during the superbowl, and offered a glimpse at the impossible odds in Dante's way. Thousands of demons pouring out of the walls to a stellar track was always entertaining to watch.

God of War III

Another Kevin Butler VP commercial, as the one for God of War III proved a personal favorite.

Starcraft II

Straight to the point, this commercial conveyed the anticipation every gamer felt for the release of a game years in the making.

Fable III

Shot with no word spoken, the Fable commercial shows the slow rise of a small band of revolutionaries to their toppling of a tyrant king. It was simple, enjoyable, and added another song to my iTunes library.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

A subtle hint of the games' characters placed in mirrored objects of the real world grabbed Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood the third spot on my list. It takes a few viewings to truly catch all the small details they added in the opening, and the gameplay cutoff in the middle isn't too shabby to look at either.

Metroid: Other M

The game left a little to be desired, but the commercial for it was enough to sway toward a purchase. The simple piano tune guiding us along the path as Samus walks through stills of her past experiences acts as a simple opener to the gameplay of the game. It used real actors without becoming too cheesy or laughable. It was a commercial I actually enjoyed watching, and worth its spot on the list.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Instead of playing into the typical "here is some gameplay" tune, the Black Ops commercial kept it in the real world with a strong message. Panning from the typical business lady, to the average construction worker, and ending with the least of them all, the lonely fry-cook; the message served as a testament to the incredible impact the Call of Duty franchise has had this year. All this without a single shot of gameplay footage.

Halo: Reach

Not only did this commercial prove that a Halo movie was possible, but also gave a well directed and well shot dedication to the franchise. The commercial, much like the game, gave off that sense of hopelessness as Reach falls, backed by a somber track cutting as the first Spartan falls, and picking up as a single Spartan delivers a big hurt to the Covenant. Despite this, the pan back to show the entire planet in utter war reminds us of the inevitable fall of Reach.

The gorgeous visuals, somber piano number, and connection to the game's overall feel ties up my favorite gaming commercial of 2010.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Epic Mickey Review - The House of Mouse

Score 6.75/10

Disney's Epic Mickey
Developer: Junction Point Studios
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Release Date: November 30, 2010

  • Art direction and colorful cast of characters give great nostalgic feeling
  • Choices made can change how events play out, warranting multiple playthroughs
  • The Erase/Paint platforming has some great moments
  • Slew of collectibles
  • Camera work is tedious, and troublesome for a platformer
  • Combat is dull, and often had me doing anything to avoid fights
  • Uninspiring fetch-quests
  • Inability to truly backtrack until New Game+
  • Once you leave a world, everything you painted/thinned is gone
  • 2D Side-Scrolling soon loses its appeal after overuse

Warren Spector is famous for System Shock and Deus Ex, both well designed games. So when word got out he was working on a game specifically for the Wii with the Disney license, people paid attention. Epic Mickey's reveal had many hopeful that this would become a must-own title for any Wii owners. The end result, however, left Mickey feeling a little less epic than he should have.

Mischievous Mouse

Epic Mickey starts out with Mickey passing through a magic mirror, where he stumbles upon YenSid using a magical brush to create a town for forgotten Disney characters. Mickey accidentally spills Thinner onto the world, creating "The Blot", who terrorizes and destroys the world. Some time after Mickey's success, he is pulled into the world by The Blot. With the help of the forgotten characters, Mickey must right the wrongs he has caused and destroy The Blot along with the Mad Scientist who seeks to use it.

The overall story and characters are well done, proving the most interesting aspect of the game. Spector's take on beloved Walt Disney characters is darker without sacrificing their classic appeal. An animatronic version of Goofy and Captain Hook still act like their counterparts. The Forgotten Characters also prove interesting, particularly Oswald the Rabbit, one of  Disney's first true creations.

A storyboard style of storytelling takes you out of the 3D space and lays it out before you like a silent cartoon. Though there isn't much here as far as story motivation, it's always entertaining watching character interaction.

To All That Come to this Happy Place

The best part of Epic Mickey is exploration of the environment. The game is essentially, a love letter to Disney fans. The worlds you are thrown into appear as clones of famous Disney attractions; including Tomorrow Land and The Haunted Mansion. The main hub world that you access all these worlds from is even called "Mean Street", an obvious play on Disney's Main Street. Having recently been myself, it was pretty neat to see many of the famous attractions turned into platforming or puzzle elements.

When you aren't exploring these environments in 3D, you are traveling between them in a 2D platformer, taking place in famous Mickey cartoons. Initially, these are incredibly fun to navigate and provided a nice beak from platforming. Later on, however, there is no "quick travel" between maps and repeating the same ones over and over again can get old real fast. They become less nostalgic, and more annoying.

In each world is a slew of collectibles to find. Most are obviously placed before you, while others require you thin/paint everything you can find to see what is hidden. It's a decent balance, though most times as I was looking for secrets, I did not realize that I was continuing down the linear path instead and doors shut behind you in most cases. It's unfortunate that you cannot backtrack as freely as you would think, but a New Game+ will let you catch it the second time around.

Color by Number

The central idea behind Epic Mickey is his use of the magic brush to assist him in platforming and combat. You use one of two triggers on the Wii-mote to hit with either Paint to fill items in, or Thinner to thin objects out. For instance, to cross a bridge, a light silhouette can be painted in to create a bridge. Alternately Thinner can be used to clear boulders out of a path. It's simple enough to get down after a while and satisfying when you chain it all together.

There are troubles with this method. Pointing the Wii-mote at the screen sometimes doesn't do the trick in hitting the target, causing you to realign your character to actually hit the intended target. Though most Paint/Thinnable items are lighter in color, it can still be difficult to determine what you can paint and what you cannot.

Something that bothered me the most was that once you leave the world through the projector, if you return, all your hard work is gone. If you wish to repaint and restore the villa to what it once was, take a mental snapshot, cause the game will have none of it.

Could Really Use a Keyblade Right About Now...

The weakest aspect of the game ended up being the combat itself. These situations use the same idea of platforming to an extent, where you paint an enemy to make them friendly or thin them out to destroy them completely. This is no problem one-on-one, but in groups can become irritating as you try to target a specific one. Attempting to paint enemies while adjusting the camera can become frustrating.

In later stages, you come across robotic creations that are not affected by the paint. For these you use a spin attack by shaking the Wii-mote. Ultimately these encounters prove just as dull. The combat was a portion of the game I constantly avoided, as each encounter left me scratching my head as to alternative methods they could have used. It made me yearn for Kingdom Heart's keyblade to make things go smoother. Though they do have "sketches" you can use to distract enemies, slow time, or drop and avil on their heads; it still did little to persuade me to stay and fight.

Luckily, most combat can be avoided with the "morality" aspect of the game. Choices you make determine whether certain puzzles will be easier to solve, or battles avoided. It's a nice balance, as the right choice is not always the easiest and vice versa. Some consequences happen immediately, and some are not seen until the very end. The boss fights are decent enough, with no particular one standing above another. Some fights are head on, others will have you choose a method to dispatch the boss. IE: Captain Hook can be thinned out, or you can free "Tinkerbell" to call in Peter Pan by climbing to the top mast. It's a good mix, where the slightest action can really help you/hurt you in the end.

Lights, Camera, Action!...Camera....Camera wtf are you doing?

The worst part of Epic Mickey lies in the game's camera work. In most situations, the camera is freed up and allows you to pan left and right (inverted by default, who inverts a horizontal direction?) or up and down to look around you. This method is relatively fine, as adjusting it was not the issue.

The issue lies in the fixed camera portions of the game, and there are a lot more than you would think. The camera will lock to a position that is typically undesirable. Most of the time when I wished to pan around, I wasn't able. The locked camera made platforming the biggest chore, and for a game based around that main entity, it was a pain.


I generally enjoyed Epic Mickey, but was ultimately disappointed. Great art direction and exclusive licensing was not enough to save it from overlooked technical flaws and uninspiring fetch quests. Mickey had the potential to be epic, but overall fell short. I personally enjoyed the game, but a typical person who picks this up will slowly see the magic slowly begin to fade.