Friday, September 9, 2011

Three Quick Takes: Bastion, Toy Soldiers, Deus Ex

I've been plowing a lot of hours over the past two weeks into pure gameplay and writing. I'm trying to finish all of Deus Ex (sidequests as well), just because I get a little obsessive about these things. My son doesn't get it. He consumes games like tissues, and doesn't understand the need to scour a level for little item and open every single locker. I hope one day to teach him the subtle pleasures of exploring the corners and sidestreets of a vibrant game world.

Some here are a few quick takes on what I've been playing this week:

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Spectacular. And maddening. Everything about it is so good, and then you get to the boss battles and have this overwhelming urge to fly to Montreal and punch someone. Penny Arcade even did a comic about it. I'm merrily rolling along, doing the whole stealthy-hacky-persuader thing, and then every few hours I'm popped out of my bubble to fight some modified boss from hell in a level of spectacularly bad design. This is the kind of thing that shaves 10 points right off the top of a final score. 

I'm not just complaining because I find these moments difficult. I'm complaining because these moments are a like a musician suddenly playing off key in the midst of a spectacular performance. Every element of the design has encouraged me to make choices, and those choices are chucked back in my face at random, arbitrary moment as the designers say, "You know, you really should have invested in that Typhoon." 

Aside from that, everything else is wonderful. It just shows how we're starved for good, deep content. There aren't enough Mass Effects and Bioshocks out there to feed the need. This is a game with something on its mind, and it will be my debut review for the new Catholic News Service game review department, just to show how powerful games can be as a narrative medium. 

Bation is just something you need to play to really understand its charm. It’s a solid action/RPG hybrid with an old-school vibe: you bash stuff, collect things, upgrade, and move along. What sets it apart is a wonderful design and sense of style, featuring a floating world that constructs itself as you explore. The landscape is a colorful, richly-imaged fantasy realm that draws you in and demands to be explored. It’s almost impossible to stop playing. I'm picking this one up for about a half hour every day. It doesn't make too many demands, but it rewards you with loads of fun and a surprising bit of depth for its genre. I even used it at the backdrop for a new headshot that publisher requested, just because it looks so sweet.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War
This sequel to last year’s insanely entertaining Toy Soldiers updates the series from little iron soldiers fighting in the trenches of WWI to GI Joe-style action figures fighting those pesky Reds. The novelty of the design was in the way it takes elements of tower defense games—such as placing weapons—and mixes them with action elements. You can actually take over and fire certain weapons and aircraft, which is a whole lot of fun. The entire game is steeped in 1980s nostalgia, complete with a Stallone action figure, lots of Cold War settings, and a complete 1980s action-movie vibe and cheesy synth soundtrack. If you have fond memories of either GI Joe or movies like Red Dawn or Rambo, this game is for you. We're mostly down to multiplayer on this one, and it's still great fun in 1 hour bursts of split screen. More maps are needed, however.

This is just a real charmer, thanks in no small part to the wonderful children's-book aesthetic. Beneath the cute visuals, however, is a game of surprising depth. You need to use a little green pig's (green pigs again!) prodigious mucus output to lead monsters into traps in order to survive a level. I'll get a full review of this one up soon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Still Alive

I didn't intend to take such a long break, but wrapping up the December issue of Games took longer than expected. After that, I had to make up all the work I'd put off, finish one class and start another, get through Hurricane Irene, get the kids ready to go back to school, and organize my collection of pogs by color, value, and date. (Okay, so I made that last one up.) I'm helping start a new game review service for the Catholic News Service, which is kind of like the Associated Press of the Church. Extra work is good, but it will leave a little less time for blogging until I get the work load balanced.

I'll be slow getting back to blogging, because the financial crunch at Casa McD is at critical mass. If you are so inclined, using my Amazon or donation link in the sidebar will be a huge help. Donations help me do extravagant things like keeping the bank from foreclosing on my house and buying food.

I've managed to get a fair deal of gaming in, and I've been spending a great deal of time with Deus Ex: Human Revolution for a review. One word: awesome.