Sunday, March 27, 2011

Halo 3: ODST Completed for the 5th Time

I wrapped up Halo 3: ODST for the 5th time today, and unlike a lot of other gamers I really enjoyed exploring New Mombasa at night. The city's not quite a Bethesda wide-open world, of course, but it's still quite the interesting way to explore and to play Halo. I also really like how Bungie went about telling the game's story.

In my opinion, the playable flashbacks worked well. They let Bungie not just tell, but rather show us a larger story and they also allowed us to get to know each member of the squad better. I personally felt attachment to them in a way that's lacking in, say Halo: Reach, and of course, these ODST's had some solid voice acting. Be it the compassionate Dutch, the smart-mouthed Romeo, or satirical Buck, I really cared for this lost squad in a very short amount of time.

Gameplay-wise, I still missed a Sprint option, but being a quasi-expansion I suppose I can't complain too much about its absence. VISR mode is certainly very cool and brings a new tactical element into play, and the inclusion of an actual map to help you navigate, a first for a Halo FPS, was another welcome addition.

In combat, at least as the Rookie, I tinkered more with the Submachine Gun this time around and found it quite adequate, but I still oft found myself falling back on the Covenant Carbine. I didn't bother with a Mongoose and engaged most hostiles along the way on foot, and while the random encounters were fun I do wish there was more of them. For an occupied city, New Mombasa did feel a bit empty.

I also wish that I could have re-hunted for all of the Audio Logs. Saddie's Story is an excellent companion tale and another unique innovation that Halo 3: ODST brings to the franchise, and searching for them was a big part of the original playthrough's exploration. Since they start already pre-loaded to your HUD in a new game, allowing you to listen to them at any time, you really are just moving from beacon to beacon, which reduces the Campaign's overall playtime.

Overall those this is a minor complaints, and the only real con to Halo 3: ODST, aside from the fact that it was overpriced at launch, was that even though you're not a Spartan, you're still a Spartan. Stamina functions too much like Shields, you can still flip vehicles, board, rip turrets off and run with them (faster than a Spartan) and use heavy weapons like the Gravity Hammer which really doesn't make sense. These are things that only Spartans should be able to do, and while I understand that gameplay and keeping the familiar are important to an existing customer base, I think Bungie could have worked a bit harder here to help make you feel like a normal human and not a super solider.

That aside however, I really enjoyed my playthrough of Halo 3: ODST and the solid urban romp it allowed. In many respects it innovated far more than its predecessor, and provided a more unique and memorable storytelling and gameplay experience. While not perfect and certainly not a game of the year, Halo 3: ODST is a great Halo experience and was far too underrated by critics and fans alike.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kratos in the PlayStation 3 version of Mortal Kombat

Most of you have probably heard by now that Kratos will be an exclusive character in the PlayStation 3 version of Mortal Kombat, which sounds like a perfect blend of franchises to me.

The God of War himself fits perfectly into the brutal fighting franchise, as clearly shown by the below gameplay video.

Seriously now, that's absolutely awesome and a great bonus for PlayStation 3 owners. There's also a great video on the PlayStation Blog where Ed Boon and Stig Asmussen (director for God of War III) discuss the marriage of the two franchises, and you can check that out below.

For fun, I tried thinking of an Xbox 360 exclusive character that could work well for that platform's version of the game, and I honestly came up short. Not because the Xbox 360 lacks quality exclusives or characters, but because they're exclusive franchises are primarily sci-fi or shooters and they simply wouldn't mesh as well.

Duke Nukem Forever Offiically Delayed Again

As if any of you are really surprised. I'd call this ironic, but really, what more can be said. No, really.

Okay, I confess, I had a good laugh over this as it's all just one big joke anyway. At least Gearbox Software realizes this and plays up to it. So June 14th it is then, but I still want to try a demo first.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Halo Wars Completed for the 6th Time

Now two thirds of the way through the franchise, I've completed Halo Wars for the 6th time. Obviously the odd title out, Halo Wars is a real time strategy game instead of a first person shooter and it's set over 21 years prior to the rest of the franchise. This gave Ensemble Studios plenty of creative freedom when crafting the Campaign's story and it was great to see them incorporate many elements of the expanded universe.

While sadly there is no Covenant Campaign, the UNSC-based missions are well designed and possess a great deal of variety that keeps things fresh and enjoyable for the player. Taking the skills I've learned from Multiplayer into the Campaign, I actually found it easier on Heroic this time, but certainly not in a negative way.

The game's Cinematics, in traditional RTS fashion, are of excellent quality and help flesh out the core story as well as provide the Covenant's perspective on things. It is too bad that the Arbiter himself never appears in-Campaign, but at least he can be used in both Skirmish and Multiplayer.

Visually the game looks excellent for a console RTS, and the voice acting is solid and the sound effects are pure Halo. The soundtrack is exceptional, with the music clearly drawing upon what's come before but giving it its own unique flavour that works for the RTS genre. Of course what Ensemble Studios should really be praised for is the game's controls.

Simple and intuitive, Halo Wars is just so easy to control given the limitations of a Controller. That's not to say there isn't room for improvement, far from it, but at no point during the Campaign was I ever left fumbling to try and make things work, to manage my units or queue up production.

Halo Wars really adds a great breath of fresh air to the franchise, innovates for its platform, but certainly retains the core Halo feeling all the way. It provides a unique look at the Halo universe and shows the potential should 343 Industries decide to branch out to more than just the FPS genre.

And with that, in the years to come, I greatly hope we get to see a Halo Wars 2.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Halo 3 Completed for the 7th Time

Lucky seven. Last Sunday, I completed Halo 3 for the seventh time and completed my second straight playthrough of the Halo Trilogy; something I haven't done since early 2008.

While I never had a major problem with Halo 3's Campaign, I did consider it the lesser of the franchise due to its lack of innovation and neglect of the Elites, but I must say that I greatly enjoyed this playthrough and actually found that its story flowed quite well from Halo 2's.

I also found myself far more forgiving of the game's graphics, and while I always disagreed with the general critics' hate-on for the game's visuals, there's no question that Halo 3 is a good looking game for a console 2007 release and anyone saying it looks just like Halo 2 is ignorantly biased. I even managed not mind Johnson's character model, which originally had me cringe when I first saw it three and a half years ago.

On this playthrough I really tinkered with the Magnum and found new respect for the gun, making the beginning of Sierra 117 not too bad after all. Personally, I consider the first Chapter of Halo 3 to be one of the weakest levels in the franchise, as it's the first in franchise history to start you in a relatively open area but you're noticeably lacking a scoped weapon. And while I have no issue with the Assault Rifle, I found myself dumping it for the Battle Rifle with a Magnum as back-up, and later on using a Shotgun in the Magnum's place.

The Shotgun actually works remarkably well on Brutes, who sadly are far easier to defeat than their tough Halo 2 counterparts. Hunters and even the Flood fall into this same category, but the game's level design and various scenarios provide a solid amount of variety and fun to keep you entertained.

I also never noticed before, but the friendly AI did seem to take a step backward over Halo 2 (while enemy AI still remained strong) and I greatly wish the Arbiter was a more effective AI ally, though at least Bungie addressed the quality of primary AI allies in future titles. Too bad the same can't be said for general friendly AI, which took yet another step back in Halo: Reach.

While I was disappointed by the lack of Sprint in Halo 2, I simply can't understand why it wasn't included here. As a 2007 release, there's no reason that I can see as to why Bungie couldn't add it in, and so many deaths are needlessly caused simply because you can't move fast enough to get to cover. While they did add Equipment, allowing things like Bubble Shields, Deployable Cover, and Regeneraters to add to one's survivability, I still didn't like their implementation and rarely used them. Armour Abilities truly are far more useful and intuitive than Equipment.

Another thing I found interesting this playthrough was that some battles which caused me no end of grief years ago were a breeze, but other battles I once found easy had me expanding my vocabulary of profanities. The final Warthog escape at game's end, for example, used to take me several tries, but this playthrough I got it in one. The large battle at the end of Chapter VII where you take on dual Scarabs, it was never a problem before but took me about twenty bloody tries this time! Extremely frustrating.

Overall however, this playthrough of Halo 3 was a grand experience and more enjoyable than any prior. In fact I enjoyed myself so much that I really feel like taking the game for yet another spin very soon, if only to see what different ways I can approach the different battles Bungie has crafted for the player. For the most part it felt like a larger, prettier, and more detailed Halo 2, and sometimes not re-inventing the wheel is a solid path for a sequel to take.

Halo: Reach "Defiant to the End" Video

As part of the marketing campaign for the Halo: Reach "Defiant Map Pack," Halo Waypoint has released a new video entitled "Defiant to the End." This video highlights the inspirations behind the Map Pack's three new multiplayer maps, most of which were taken right from the expanded universe.

For example, "Condemned" takes place on Orbital Station Gamma, the same station in which John and Linda infiltrate in the novel Halo: The Fall of Reach to purge one remaining navigational database.

"Highlands" takes place at a former Spartan-II training facility and features the crashed Pelican that Fred and the rest of Red Team ditched before it crash landed during Halo: First Strike.

Check out the full video below.

Mass Effect 2: Arrival Details

Details for the final DLC for Mass Effect 2 have been released. Called "Arrival," Commander Shepard and crew must rescue a missing undercover agent trapped in Batarian space who has evidence of an imminent Reaper invasion.

Sporting three new Achievements and new research, the DLC add-on will be released for the Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 on Tues. Mar. 29th and cost 560 Microsoft Points, 560 BioWare Points, or $6.99, depending on the platform you're looking to pick it up on.

Mass Effect 2: Arrival will also feature Admiral Hackett, voiced by Lance Henriksen.

Batman: Arkham City Debut Gameplay Trailer

One of my most anticipated games, the debut gameplay trailer for Batman: Arkham City speaks for itself.

An excellent trailer that really has me pumped to play the game. I loved the atmosphere and combat shown, save for the "ground pound" that Batman does in one of his landings.

The Dark Knight can do many things, but I don't buy creating a shockwave on hitting the ground. Unless he has BatGas, and I don't mean of the nerve variety.

BioShock 2: Protector Trials Available on PC

On Mon. Mar. 14th, the "Protector Trials" were officially released for the PC version of BioShock 2, and what's more is they're free!

While not the greatest DLC add-on ever released (you can read my review of the Xbox 360 version here), you can't argue with that price tag so go ahead and give them a try.

A small patch was also released for the PC version fixing some minor bugs, and you'll be prompted to download it the first time you start up BioShock 2 after March 14th.

For full details, you can read the official announcement at the Cult of Rapture here.

2K Games is still working on the PC version of "Minerva's Den," which will be a premium add-on.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Batman: Arkham City Release Date Revealed

The Dark Knight returns this Fall in the sequel to the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum. One of my personal favourite games from 2010, Batman: Arkham City will be a day one purchase for me, and the game will release to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on October 18th.

Excellent news everyone, and you can check out the official announcement on the Batman: Arkham City Facebook page here.

Halo: Reach - Behind the Scenes "Defiant Map Pack"

Halo Waypoint has released a new ViDoc detailing their development process of the upcoming Halo: Reach "Defiant Map Pack."

While I still can not justify paying anywhere near this cost for multiplayer maps, I must confess the maps do look beautiful and creatively speaking, it sounds like 343 Industries has their heads screwed on straight. Personally, I really like the nods to the expanded universe, and that expanded universe is something 343 Industries has been doing well in supporting.

In terms of actual Halo games, however, we still need to see what 343 Industries can do to truly support the franchise, and I suspect we'll need to wait a while longer for that test to come.

Halo 2 Completed for the 9th Time

Or is that 10th time? I honestly don't recall but suffice it to say, I've played the game a lot and it's easily my favourite in the trilogy and the entire franchise. With a far more elaborate storyline, stronger character development, and innovative gameplay, Halo 2 is still an exceptional game by modern standards.

For a 2004 console release, Halo 2 was, in my opinion, better than any other shooter on any platform released that year. Vehicle boarding and dual wielding were great additions that really opened up far more options to the player, and the friend and foe AI is still solid over six years later. All of the elements combined to give player-choice that simply isn't possible in most other shooters, even modern shooters released in 2011.

The weapons you choose to take, the vehicles you choose to use or not, and the way the AI handles any given situation allowed for the linear levels to have continual non-linear encounters and it took me several playthroughs to start finding that the same battle in the same level was starting to play out the same way.

Don't believe me, go play "Outskirts" or "Metropolis" and try using the Battle Rifle and an Energy Sword, then go through again using dual SMGs and a Rocket Launcher. Take the Ghost instead of the Warthog or on "Metropolis" forget the Scorpion and use the battered Warthog off to the side or better yet, cross that bridge on foot. Heck, steal a Wraith or a Banshee or none of the above, and you'll see how these linear levels and battles aren't. Overall the outcome is the same but how you get there will be different depending on what you choose to do, and few games offer such variety, even in the Halo franchise itself.

Truly, Bungie should be praised for their level design, AI, and weapons/vehicle balance. My only true major gripes with Halo 2 are the lack of a Sprint option and the Checkpoint save system. As a 2004 release, I was disappointed that Sprint simply wasn't in the game as you're still rather slow for a cybernetically enhanced super solider. In fact, most times you'll be loading up your last Checkpoint because you couldn't hightail it out of a bad situation back into cover fast enough. And the problem with the Checkpoint-only save system is that you're often forced to re-eliminate those dozen enemies you just took the time to take out, and depending on the situation you'll need to do this multiple times. A quick save option could easily have been put on the "Back" button, but like most console shooters we're denied this basic function.

I personally really enjoyed the storyline and the expansion of the Covenant and their motives, and the Arbiter is one of my favourite game characters. I don't understand all the players who found the story confusing, and it's really pretty easy to follow provided you're actually paying attention, and the game is far more cinematic than most offerings of its time.

I did encounter the ghosting emulation bug on my Xbox 360, which was a shame, but the higher resolution and reduced texture pop-in made this inconvenience minor.

Now it's on to Halo 3, and to finish the fight.