Redoubt Operations #1 & #2 Nominated in 2009 Mission Architect Awards

2009 ma awards nomsLast week I had the pleasure to learn that Redoubt Operations #1: Fires over Kalago and Redoubt Operations #2: Wrath of the Imperium had been nominated in the 2009 Mission Architect Awards for Best Villain Group and Best Villain Story, respectively. (I’m not quite sure why Redoubt Operations #1 got misspelled, though.) In any case this news was the highlight of my week last week. Unfortunately, complete victory was not to be as “Internship in the Fine Art of Revenge” won Best Villain Story and “Blight” won for Best Villain Group, but still even being nominated among the thousands of other entries is incredible. Now, here’s to hoping my two arcs can manage to get a Dev’s Choice out of all this. Cross your fingers.


Brutal Legend for Xbox 360 Impressions

So this week I got my hot little hands on Brutal Legend, a game with big aspirations, amazing visual style, and a hype machine that’s been steadily building once everyone’s eyeballs were finally graced with viewing this piece of eye-candy. I want to say I love this game, but it has two major, and one minor,  flaws that sort of spoiled it for me.

But let’s start with the good. It’s chock full of awesome, metal sounds, it drips style, and it has great voice acting that is fun and humorous, reminiscent of the old Lucasarts adventure games. In addition it has a fun beat’em up aspect that evolves into a competent real-time strategy game that is high on action. Imagine Dynasty Warriors game where you built units, the combat was less repetitive and you had a plethora of buffs and powers at your disposal, that’s what the game’s RTS action is like. This RTS battle game is what the multiplayer is built on, and from trying the single player, I think this is poised to be successful if it keeps up a following. It’s definitely a new game in town for Xbox 360 play.

Now for the bad. The single player campaign is short. (And I did every single side mission too.) I managed to finish the entire campaign in one sitting. Granted it was a very long sitting, but one sitting? That’s pretty insane. I really got the feeling that the last “act” as it were got chopped off. There’s a huge build up to your battle with the demon lord Doviculus’ army, only to have one full-scale RTS battle with him and his hordes, followed by the boss battle with him. Really? You also fight him in the same place you beat the previous faction. While I guess that did help some plot points I was really looking forward to the triumphant march to Doviculus’ new home base on the map, only to be disappointed. Really, you spend more time going after the faction before Doviculus’ demons than you do Doviculus himself.

There’s also a plot point so dumb it makes me want to bang my head, but not in a good way. I’m not going to spoil it for you but there is a name that’s dropped that by the big bad guy that causes a big to do in the hero’s team of Ironheade. Interesting, right? No, because one of the main characters has said name written on their person! How can everyone there, including Jack Black’s character, Eddie Riggs, not already know the name Doviculus drops and diffuse the situation creation by him dropping the name? Am I supposed to believe 3 months went by from the time Doviculus dropped the name and no one said, “Hey <BLEEP>, you’ve got that <BLEEP> name written on your <BLEEP> in big giant easy-to read letters. I think that means we made a mistake about <BLEEP>.” It boggles my mind. Yes, more than people mining rocks with their heads.

A third sticking point that annoyed me. The game is pretty good about giving you tutorials. One of the first things you’re taught is to look around the world for a particular symbol and to use a relic raiser song to raise the relic, and told about jumping for lightning plugs, doing side missions, etc. Simple, no? Well at the same time in the beginning of the game there are serpent statues and hidden artifacts that are bound up.  I found lots of these statues. You can interact with them and Eddie will say something about them, which usually indicates there’s something important. Now I figured later I would get some ability that would let me open up these items, like the Relic Raiser, and similar to many other games with explorable worlds like this. You know the drill, get the upgrade, go back to the places you’ve visited to use the upgrade to unlock the thing that was locked before. I figured I’d get a tutorial about it too, maybe a quest to introduce it like so many other things in the game. Surprise surprise, none of that happened. I found all the upgrades, did all the side quests, and completed the game and then I realized no, no such tutorial and hint would be coming my way. At which point I found these things and messed around with buttons until I figured out that some of my basic moves from the beginning of the game could have opened them up. And then once I opened these things up I got the entry that told me what these things were. Goody. The artifacts tell me about the game world’s history, something I always find interesting, and the serpent statues upgrade Eddie’s health, damage, etc. No wonder Eddie seemed like he was made out of wet toilet paper in the RTS battles. I mean I thought that’s just the way it was as a way to encourage me to use my unit’s and not Eddie’s axe, but apparently it’s just because I didn’t get a single serpent statue throughout the whole game. Aye. Needless to say having completed the game I’m not going to go back through the game and find these things. I just wish the game would have given me a clue, especially when it’s so good about introducing every other element of the game.

Assuming you can get around those sticking points the game is quite simply, awesome. I really enjoyed my time with the game, and I don’t regret my rental of it at all. But I don’t think I could justify a purchase of this game unless I planned to play the multiplayer game a lot. And maybe that will be the case, because the RTS battles are really good and a some of the best action sequences in the game. We’ll just have to see if there is the kind of following this game needs to do well.


Ringo Star Lives in Bailey’s Nightmares

If I hide under this desk the John Lennon can't get me

If I hide under this desk the John Lennon can't get me

Although I’m sure some people will think this is just a picture of a little dog laying down, those of you who have dogs might be able to recognize the signs of a dog freaked out of his little gourd. This is a picture of Bailey hiding under my desk, curled up into a little ball with his tail tucked in and shivering. What catastrophic event caused Mr. Bailey’s distress? Lightning storm? Hurricane? A nationwide Carrot Top comedy tour? No! It’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” being played on The Beatles Rockband. Incidentally Bailey started reacting to the game shortly after I read the trivia about how an ultrasonic sound, like a dog whistle, was added into the song Inner Grove on the album, though that song isn’t present in The Beatles Rockband. It wasn’t just Sgt. Pepper that scared Bailey though, he showed equal fear to “Here Comes the Sun”, “Octupus Garden”, “Get Back”, and every song in between. I guess something about the Beatles’ later years really frightens the poor little dog. After playing the game I ended up having to spend the next hour consoling the poor little dog that the big bad Paul McCartney wasn’t going to get him.

Well, at least the game was loads of fun. Guess it’s a good thing for Bailey it was only a rental.


Wet for Xbox 360 Impressions

Among all the other games that have come out, Wet from Bethesda is a game that is liable to slip under many people’s radars. A visually stunning and stylish game, Wet is enjoyable and lots of fun to play and rewards the player for acrobatic gunplay with things such as slow-motion effects and auto-targetting, but suffers from some control snafus and the plague of the past two console generations: too-shortitis.

For those who haven’t seen it Wet is an action game that follows the heroine, Rubi Malone, through her exploits as a fixer, doing jobs for the criminal underworld. The game has a Quentin Tarantino style and 70’s drive-in “grindhouse” style look and it simply oozes personality. All the characters are well voice acted and have their own interesting personality quirks, which even though they aren’t original are at least acceptable and consistent, the entire whole of the game fitting together quite well. Everything is stylized to the hilt, from the main heroine to extras like the ER doctor sporting the afro. Even common enemy types are commonly given individual touches, tattoos, country flags, different clothing, personalized weapons, and other things that makes it feel like real film working with a huge cast of extras rather a game where you can simply make one model and repeat it ad nauseum. The entire game is given a film-grain and scratches effect which is very confident, emulating the slight flicker and screen movement these old reels used to display. Even loading screens are disguised as reel changes with cheesy drive-in ads (The one advocating viewers to “Visit your place of worship regularly” is particularly hilarious with the violence-drenched scenes it appears between.) in the interim, and nearing death makes the film-strip begin to come off its track and death makes the film snap altogether.

The gameplay centers around Rubi Malone’s acrobatic prowess. From the moment the game begins players will be diving, sliding, running on walls, sliding down ladders, running along  ledges, and swinging from pole to pole all while participating in rapid-fire gunplay that is more often than not filled with copious explosions. The game allows this to happen by slowing down the action every time you’re in the middle of any acrobatic maneuver while firing. In addition to that benefit while in these maneuvers Rubi uses a gun in her left hand during acrobatics. This gun automatically targets the nearest enemy, allowing the player to control the gun in the right hand and choose to concentrate fire on one enemies or take out a different enemy. While doing this the game gives points for dispatching enemies during spectacular displays of diving, sliding, and leaping with “style points” which are used to upgrade Rubi’s abilities, allowing her to shoot faster and do tricks like wall running off enemies and using them as a springboard for yet more feats of athleticism. This sort of action is the game’s bread and butter and it’s fun to do. Rubi’s moves chain together easily and for the most part aren’t difficult to execute, though there are some snafus with controls, more on that later.  Open areas often become small puzzles making the player think how best to move through a piece of terrain to get the most airtime to dispatch the enemies the easiest, all while trying to keep an eye out for the old video game standby, exploding barrels. (It’s a wonder a whole generation of gamers aren’t developing “barrel-phobia” by now.)

Gameplay really consists of two major segments. The first are long corridors, which are often filled with obstacles which Rubi must use her acrobatic abilities to overcome, and spare numbers of enemies. These areas honestly feel a lot like an old platforming game, which Rubi having to do things like climb up mine shafts, navigate her way along the outside of a building, and escaping a collapsing tunnel. These areas are competently put together and don’t have may overall problems with them, but they suffer from a few areas where it can be unclear what to do. To clear this up the game has the player is given “Rubi Vision” which has terrain Rubi can use in her acrobatic moves glow red. This works very well 99% of the time and gives the player good hints as what to do but in one or two spots you have to make leaps of faith. One part in particular that drove me insane was a gap with a window ledge and a window. The window ledge glowed red in Rubi Vision, making it seem like the player is supposed to jump, grab on, and then maybe vault up to another ledge from that ledge, a platforming element that is used often in the game and before the window. However when leaping Rubi would not grab onto this ledge, causing me to die and having to start over from the last checkpoint. (Checkpoints are frequent through levels and are usually placed right before challenging areas, but later in the game checkpoints become sparser, forcing you to replay easier parts to get back to the hard part where you last died.) I had to look online to find out that I had to shoot the window out and then leap. Note this window looked like it was part of the background, and grabing onto the ledge of identical windows and vaulting past them is something that had already been introduced before, so this kind of thing was an unexpected, and surprising, curveball. Another similar ambiguous element occurs in the William Acker’s dungeon area, a rather bland out-of-place spot compared to the rest of the game, where the player must slide toward a portcullis and shot one crank while Ruby’s auto-aiming left hand shoots the other crank. Granted the cranks glow, and there is a “wet streak” which is often used to denote sliding… but shoot a crank to make it raise? That’s a bit out of left field. It’s sad too because most of the game is put together well, with just a few glaring defects like these standing out against the rest of the game.

The second major element of the gameplay are the “arenas” which are wide open areas filled with enemies. Some of the arenas are simply “kill all” type affairs but most of them need Rubi to close the entrances, preventing more enemies from entering, by doing things like damaging keypads and dropping large chinese gongs over doors.  The arenas are arguably the most fun, and most frustrating part of the game. The arenas are usually filled with acrobatic elements and hazards, and usually the best way to make your way through these arenas is to find the best route through it which keeps Rubi in the air the longest. These areas are frustrating because they’re often the ones that the player will be repeating over and over, either trying to get the best score or simply dying to the onslaught of enemies, and the Hong Kong triads swarming you while they scream, “Taste my special sauce!” is only amusing so many times.  Most of the arenas are straight forward, but one or two of them are particularly brutal and throw curveballs like looking up at one part to see you can wall run up to a ledge, something that’s hard to think about while you’re trying to fight off a wave of enemies and dodge the guy with the gatling gun trying to turn Rubi into swiss cheese.

About the controls. There is a lot of what I would call a “snap to” element to the controls? What does that mean? A lot of programs, especially graphics editing, have something called snap to where if an element nears something significant, like a border, the element will snap to it so it’s directly against the border. This feature usually works pretty well, since usually if you’re moving an element next to a border it’s because you want it next to it. The game’s controls sometimes happen like this, especially where poles are concerned. Most of the time this isn’t any problem, but sometimes the “snap” doesn’t seem to kick in like you expect it, or sometimes you need to release the left trigger, the wall run and Rubi vision button, to make her grab hold when you want her to and most of the time you don’t. Usually when the “snap” doesn’t work right Rubi ends up hurting into a fire or electrical hazard or a pit, and it can be really frustrating when that happens.  The snappyness can also make controls feel a little “locked in”. For example, Rubi will only let go of a pole at the perfect time in her swing, and she always swings exactly to the next terrain element to grab on, sometimes going upwards when her swing animation doesn’t fit it. Granted this makes it a lot easier to do the stunts the game requires, but the disconnect from your controls and what happens can be annoying, especially when Rubi goes around the pole, an easy target, once more because you hit the A button too late.

The last big problem for Wet is that it’s short. I was able to finish the game in about three days of playing, and that’s taking my time about it. Once you have a sense for how things will play out even I can finish the game in a single sitting. Once you finish the game all you have really to look forward to is score mode, playing a higher difficulty, or trying the “Golden bullets” mode where enemies die in one hit. Granted, playing again can be fun, especially in golden bullets mode, but once you have a play through under your belt another one isn’t really needed. There isn’t much new to find and Rubi can’t carry her upgrades with her between games.

Because of the game’s length and lack of replayability I can’t really recommend it for more than a rental. Granted it is a fun, enjoyable rental, but once you’ve gone through the game once or twice most people’s desire to play the game will be ended, with those bearing the curse of completionist braving the game time and time again to find hidden monkeys and unlock achievements. There’s nothing wrong with being a good rental, and in a game of on-demand games I wonder if Wet would have done better as a game that a player would rent online and download, similar to a pay per view movie, then as a full retail box game. Wet is a fun ride, but just like a rollercoaster it’s something best sampled than owned.