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Retro City Rampage

Full Review

Retro City Rampage CoverWhen I rented the Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law video game a few years ago, I learned that some comedy has a minimum speed limit. I loved the rapid surrealist gags in the Adult Swim cartoon, but fifteen minutes was all I could take of the same humor decelerated to account for player input. What worked at twenty jokes per minute just didn’t translate to a relaxed visual novel speed.

Retro City Rampage has taught me that the funny/fast correlation works both ways. What was shaping up to be a parade of lazy puns and toothless parodies is acceptable entertainment when marched at a sprinter’s pace. It’s all in the delivery.

And Rampage delivers ‘80s nostalgia in spades. From head to toe, the game is decked out in pop culture knockoffs. You’ll accept missions from Principal Belding, find Game Genie codes, and change your appearance in a Michael Jackson facelift shop...with slight alterations that abide by intellectual property laws, of course.

Retro City Rampage

First Hour Review

Retro City Rampage CoverLadies and gentlemen, we are experiencing a full-blown Easter Egg epidemic. In just the last month, Dishonored re-enacted a scene from PC classic Thief: The Dark Project. The newest World of Warcraft expansion contains homages to everything from Battletoads to Harvest Moon to Star Fox.

There are even veritable egg trails: Torchlight II pays homage to Borderlands 2 which references Dark Souls. If this trend continues, it won’t be long until we have a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon on our hands, counting references back to either “Cake is a lie” or “Arrow in the knee.”

And Retro City Rampage isn’t helping matters. Released last week on PlayStation Network and Steam (and coming soon for XBLA and WiiWare), this Grand Theft Auto “demake” touches on dozens of classic NES-era videogames, if not hundreds. The launch trailer alone portends a never-ending assault of sly winks, like a pirate blinking War and Peace in morse code.

Saints Row: The Third

First Hour Review

Saints row the Third CoverSaints Row 2 was already over the top. After an epic prison bust you then shoot up a courthouse and spray poop on rich people’s homes. It was crazy and pretty fun, and seemed worth playing beyond the first hour just to see what the developers could cook up.

Volition wanted to go bigger though, so they made Saints Row: The Third. Within days of release, the game was already famous for one of its weapons: The Penetrator, a giant purple dildo with realistic... dildo physics. But from my time with the game, I can promise you they really went to town with an adrenaline-pumping, action set-piece heavy first hour that simply blows the offerings Saints Row 2 put up.

So let’s take a look at the first hour of Saints Row: The Third, with this hour’s minute by minute section being sponsored by the absurdity of Volition, highlighting the crazy levels the game goes beyond even its predecessor.

Sleeping Dogs

Full Review

Sleeping Dogs CoverI like freedom in games. That being said, I love open world games-the ability to run around a virtual world, doing missions whenever I please, and I will give any open-world sandbox game a chance, from Toy Story to Saints Row. I fondly remember the “undercover cop” GTA rip-off True Crime series so ridiculous it was almost hard to take serious about ten years ago-yeah, the one that let you play as Snoop Dog. I soon found out that Sleeping Dogs, seemingly released out of nowhere this month, was the once-titled True Crime: Hong Kong, only having changed names due to legal reasons after switching publishers from Activision to Square Enix. While it may have once belonged in a line of True Crime games, TRUST ME- In no way, shape, or form is this anything like what I remember the True Crime series being like. (In a good way.)

With Square Enix’s reboot, remastering and renaming of the True Crime franchise, now Sleeping Dogs, they have tooled what could prove to be one of the biggest surprise smash hits this year with tight gameplay all around and with a story more compelling than most of Rockstar or THQ’s gangster tales have ever felt. Here is my review of Sleeping Dogs for Xbox 360.

Saints Row 2

First Hour Review

Saints row 2 CoverWithout Rockstar Games and Grand Theft Auto III, we wouldn’t have Sleeping Dogs, The Saboteur, and possibly dozens of other series, including Saints Row. But whereas Grand Theft Auto IV upped the realism to aggravating levels (managing relationships and awful driving are the worst offenders), Saints Row has descended further and further into insanity, basically delivering the same sandbox joy that GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas were known for.

I’ve never played the original Saints Row, and while Saints Row 2 seems to continue directly off from the first game, I’m guessing I’ll be able to jump into the gangster-filled world with ease. I’ve heard tons of great things about the third game recently, but the second one flew under my radar, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect.

Here’s the first hour of Saints Row 2 for the PlayStation 3.

Infamous

Full Review

Infamous CoverThe whole “play the first hour of a video game and determine from that whether I’d keep playing” concept has its flaws, it’s certainly not perfect. Some great first hours fall short over time, and others give a bad first impression that they (sometimes) unknowingly recover from later on. But other times the first impression is right on, Infamous is one of those games.

I had a great time with the first 60 minutes of Infamous, the gameplay was fast-paced and just felt.. right. Plus, I’m always looking for sandbox games that pull off the action genre better than Grand Theft Auto IV (ugh). The Saboteur had similar first hour pedigree, and was also a great success in the end, so I had quite high hopes for Infamous.

You can probably tell by my praise that I enjoyed the game, so if you care to read on why I enjoyed it, well, here you go. My full review of Infamous for the PlayStation 3.

Infamous

First Hour Review

Infamous CoverThere's something fun about playing catchup on a console like the PlayStation 3. I already know what most gamers think are the best games, and I can pick and choose from the rest that appeal to me. The games are cheap, the library huge, and the experiences brand new.

So here I am with Infamous (also known as inFAMOUS, but that's just awful), Developed by Sucker Punch Productions and released in mid 2009 on just the PlayStation 3. It didn't leave much of an impression with me at the time except that it was going head to head with a game called Prototype, which from afar seemed like a relatively similar gaming experience. Both games were successful in their own right, Infamous 2 landed last year which Nate reviewed, and Prototype 2 shipped last month.

Infamous is my fourth PS3 catchup game this year, following Batman: Arkham City, Heavy Rain, and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I've enjoyed them all, and am currently very fond of the PS3 experience. Of course, I'm limiting myself so far to games I know are pretty great, so I may be biased. Here's my first hour review of Infamous.

Minecraft

First Hour Review

Minecraft CoverInitially, Humble Indie Bundle 3 was only five videogames for whatever price you deemed worthy: Crayon Physics Deluxe, Cogs, VVVVVV, And Yet It Moves, and Hammerfight. After a day or two, a free pass for Markus “Notch” Persson's Minecraft was added, allowing HIB3 buyers to play the blocks-laden indie game until August 14, 2011. This might have had something to do with the fact that Notch was/is one of the top contributors to the cause, dropping well over $4,000 for a handful of games he surely already owns. But it's easy to figure out why he'd support indie games like so, and giving the wary a free looksie into his own thriving title is a smart decision.

For some time now, I've been interested in Minecraft. Take note that I did not say interested in playing Minecraft, as the two statements are actually very different. Just interested. From the outside, it looks like a creative, germinal, easy-to-play game that is just asking you to open it up and go nuts. Plus, y'know, I grew up on Lego blocks. It's just plain ol' nature here, stacking and breaking blocks galore and building crazy fortresses loaded from ceiling to cellar with booby-traps. However, Minecraft could also share the same problems many other open-world games have, where there is ultimately little purpose.

At E3 2011, it was announced that Minecraft was coming to the Xbox 360, my preferred gaming console. For now, I'll be giving the game a swing on my Macbook, and hopefully it can handle everything. It's struggled to run other games from Humble Indie Bundle 3 (and previous iterations). I am and always will be a console gamer though so if I do enjoy my time here, I'll more than likely download it from Xbox Live Arcade whenever it becomes available.

Infamous and The Beast

Blog Post

Infamous 2 Cover(WARNING: This post discusses significant plot points of Infamous and Infamous 2 in detail. You are now at the gates of Spoiler City. Turn back if you intend to play the game with a blank slate someday.)

One of the cornerstones of horror is mystery. People fear the unknown, enough so that they will fill in the blanks with their own personal hellspawn when presented with a few creepy clues. Things that go bump in the night don't need to bare glistening fangs or a bloody hook to terrify us: they just have to bump.

This connection is easily exploited to make a good scare even better. It sounds crazy that so many left theaters spooked after the Blair Witch Project, considering the titular monster was never shown, yet that's exactly why the movie was a hit. Cloverfield saw that success and adapted it to trailers and TV spots, depicting a Godzilla-level monster attack from the view of those unable to see the monster directly. Video games are catching on as well, with many praising Amnesia: The Dark Descent for providing scares when nothing's there.

Infamous 2 isn't a horror game, but it makes excellent use of this deprivation technique to ramp up the suspense. The story's core is Cole MacGrath's quest to prepare for the destined arrival of The Beast, a being of such power and wrath that only at his fullest potential could the hero hope to stop it. Throughout the game, chilling reminders of this impending cataclysm are ever present, casting a shadow of despair that even overcasts Cole's considerable predicaments in the here and now. And when the Beast finally arrives, revealing itself at last to the wearied but hardened superman, the suspense is replaced with a dread so thick that it suffocates the player in a way no game ever has before.

Musings on L.A. Noire, and gray areas in game design

Full Review

la Noire CoverOne of the fun attributes of film noir is that, while often filmed in a stark black and white style, the characters and situations aren't so easily sorted. Good guys can keep bad habits, damsels in distress can turn femme fatale, and the line between cop and crook gets muddy. Black and white is the look, but gray is the tone.

L.A. Noire, Rockstar's latest critical smash, pays tribute to film noir's unclear nature not only in style but also in its design. A vast open world is the stage for a linear story. Modern gunfights and street races play nice with adventure game relics and intuition simulation that should prove to be the game's lasting legacy. And, given the task, I'd place L.A. Noire somewhere in the spectrum between pretty good and almost great.

But to be honest, that's not really what this piece turned out to be. It's not quite a review, but not really just a critique, either. Want a review? Here: "L.A. Noire isn't a bad game by any standard, but it's more an interesting experiment than it is a great experience." I'll even throw a number at you. "7." Bam, reviewed.

With that addressed, the following is a look at a few of the ways L.A. Noire straddles many seemingly opposite design elements. Sometimes this leads to nagging issues, others to surprise delights. But more often than not, it's hard to say either way.

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