Playlist: June 21st

Wow. That Xbox DRM backpedalling, eh? Hell of a thing. It’s pretty inspiring to see how, right when you’re thinking mere opinion can’t change anything, overwhelming public opinion manages to change the plans of a major player like this. Too bad they’ve still got their always online spycam, right? Darn shame.

PLAYED

Tomb Raider

PS2CoverSheet108Colin:

I snagged Tomb Raider on PS3 during Sony’s big E3 digital sale, but only today did I get around to firing it up. The main content of the game, I’m enjoying quite a lot- the Uncharted meets Metroid description I’d heard is very apropos, but unlike some, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Uncharted had some good moments, but for the most part, it bored the piss out of me- holding up on my left analog stick and hitting X any time Drake stopped moving was not a good time. By adding Metroid-ish traversal items, Tomb Raider makes climbing and jumping far more engaging than Uncharted ever was, and the combat is pretty solid as well. The intro, however, really rubbed me the wrong way.

Put frankly, the game’s first fifteen minutes felt like an E3 demo (and probably were used as such). It had that Pirates of the Caribbean feel- hazards and obstacles that actually couldn’t kill you, but still make you feel like you were escaping death. A theme park attraction- lots of bad jump scares, explosions, and a linear path to walk on to ensure that none of them pose the slightest threat. If my being at the controller doesn’t even make a difference in how this scene plays out, how about you just make it a cutscene, and I go make a sandwich while you entertain yourself?

The game does get much better after that, but that opening just felt like a waste of my time. As time passes, and I become experienced with more and more games, I grow less and less patient with time wasting “look at our special effects” bullshit. If I wanted fireworks with no substance, I’d watch some stupid summer blockbuster movie. If I’m playing a game, I’d like to play a game. Thanks.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

witcher2Colin:

Wowowow. I’m not a graphics man, but hot damn this game is pretty. All the Witcher 3 talk from E3 reminded me that I never really got anywhere in Witcher 2, so I started over fresh, and I’m having a grand old time. The combat is challenging and fun, the writing is great, the world is well realized. Honestly, it feels like what Dragon Age 2 should have been- fantastic, deep dark fantasy. It’s way more fun to play than Dragon Age ever was, though, thanks to its action rpg combat.

I also really like the way the game handles preparation. There is a strong emphasis on being ready for a fight before it happens- the thing that makes Witchers such great fighters is not overwhelming power, but the simple fact that they stack the deck in their favor. Know a tough battle is coming? Mix a few potions, and knock em back for a significant power boost. And, like I said- very pretty. Fer real.

Magrunner: Dark Pulse

magrunnerBen:

I won’t lie, most of my entertainment choices this week initially served as distractions while I waited for my brother to finish The Last of Us. It only took one look at Magrunner: Dark Pulse’s ridiculous box art to break me out of my impatient stupor. Combining Portal with Cthulhu didn’t sound like a winning recipe, but the sheer insanity of the concept coaxed me into plunking down $20 and diving in sight unseen.

As the name implies, Magrunner essentially swaps out your Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device for a glove that manipulates magnetic fields. Magnetized puzzles breathe new life into the “first person test chamber” formula, but your movements feel surprisingly stiff. Instead of plopping down cubes wherever you please, they expect you to line them up with the designated invisible “slots” they snap into when you get close enough. The physics were key to making Portal fun to play, and while they aren’t as necessary in a game about magnets, the lack of organic movement in Magrunner makes it much less pleasing to play.

The Lovecraftian horror is just starting to seep in, and hopefully a little Cthulhu will shake things up. I’m still eager to play more, but I can’t help but feel disappointed in the weak movement.

BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend

bbcsxBen:

When entering a new franchise, fighting game players normally don’t start with the first game in the series. Aside from brief trips to the nostalgia zone, the community tends to focus on the latest and greatest iteration of Tekken or Street Fighter; the newest version has balance changes and other goodies that render its predecessors obsolete. That’s all well and good when you’re dealing with a nonexistent storyline, but understanding BlazBlue’s complex narrative requires you to start from square one. I wasn’t aware of this when Colin sent me the original Continuum Shift, which still served as a great fighting game but felt like reading the second volume in a series of thick novels.

Thankfully, PlayStation Plus gave me the opportunity to check out BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend which packs an abridged version of Calamity Trigger, the much-needed first novel. It’s hardly the Rosetta stone, but absorbing the initial context went a long way toward newfound appreciation for Arc’s decidedly bonkers world. I only wish that I were playing it on the big screen instead of the Vita; swapping a fighting stick for a d-pad does no favors for my thumbs.

Super Meat Boy

supermeatboyColin:

Dat music, man. When I installed Super Meat Boy on my new computer, and realized that it didn’t have cloud saves, I was initially devastated. Then I started playing again, and I wasn’t in the slightest. The perfectly tuned platforming action is a joy to replay- and this time, it was even better. That’s thanks to me finally taking the advice that the game gives you every time you boot it up, and playing with a gamepad instead of a keyboard. On a keyboard, the game is a struggle, but on a gamepad that shit’s smooth like butta. I beat World 1 in a single sitting, and I’m already further into World 2 than I ever got on my old computer.

I probably don’t have to sell you on SMB, if you’re games savvy enough to be reading this, but in case I do: perfectly tuned platforming, bite sized levels that are just long enough to challenge you without feeling like bullshit, a difficulty that is vicious but always fair, and electronic music that will rock your freakin’ world. Just don’t go telling me your high scores. I feel pretty good about how I’m doing, and I don’t want that to change.

WATCHED

World War Z

worldwarzBen:

Much like a secretive government agent attempting to erase his trail, World War Z wants you to forget any interesting plot thread moments after it’s introduced. Brad Pitt teams up with a Sherlock-esque Harvard student with a keen eye for anthropology, but he’s unceremoniously dumped from the action before he blossoms into anything worthwhile. Likewise, the film throws suspect political movements into the mix before deciding it bit off more than it could chew and burying the thread under mountains of ant-like zombies. It simplifies and trims until the only thing left is an average family suffering from a disaster that just so happens to involve zombies.

The PG-13 rating clips even more ambition from the movie; the total lack of gore makes an already goofy concept look downright laughable. It’s hard to muster any fear or tension when your foe resembles a human Bugs Bunny instead of a cold-blooded killer. For all the millions that Brad Pitt’s production crew threw at creating digital zombies, they don’t look much better than the comparatively low-budget Shaun of the Dead. The only Z’s worth catching this weekend involve a nice, long nap.