Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Tender Moment With Mass Effect 2 Collector's Edition

Oh... why... hello there Mass Effect 2 Collector's Edition. What are you doing here?

MASS EFFECT 2, what are you doing?!... showing me your steel game case. You naughty girl... But what's that over there?

Mmmmm, a 48 page hard cover art book AND a limited edition Mass Effect Redemption #1 comic book. You are just too much.

What's that? You also come with a download code for a new weapon and armor.

Ok, I can't take it anymore... come here you, and let me install you to my HARD drive...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Poops Magee in: The Ballad of Toht and Buttermouth

An alternate and possibly more useful title may be "Why I will never go to a midnight release again", but that's neither here nor there. I recently acquired my copy of Mass Effect 2 (thanks, Shepardclause!) at a midnight release at my local Gamestop. I believe Ryan has already covered my reasoning for such a venture, so I won't dwell on those details.

Let me start by saying that the last midnight release I attended was for Halo 3, and I was so damaged by that event that I swore then to never do it again. Last time, I was surrounded by gamer snobs bragging about their gamerscores (their GAMERSCORES!!) like it was something their mom would tell her friends about with a glowig smile and a puffed out chest. To me, that's about as good of an indicator of your ambitions in life as talking up how many friends you have on facebook. The onslaught continued with talks of their best kill scores in Halo 2, excitement about the possible nudity of Cortana, and other such trash that made me wish I was born without ears.

That sets the groundwork nicely for this evening's (morning's?) events. I got to the Gamestop only to be very disappointed that I had arrived at 11:45 and had to find a non-rage-inducing way of killing 15 minutes. After sitting in my car and listening to the dulcet, lady-like tones of Reggie Miller on the Dan Patrick show, I decided that there had to be a better way.

So I went in.

Upon breaching the threshold of the Gamestop, I was greeted with the usual crowd that attends midnight releases. Of note, there was the mid 50 year-old with a ponytail and a sour demeanor, the guy who was still in his work uniform, a dude with spiked up hair and a bluetooth earpiece who was undoubtedly going to take the game back to the Kappa house so he and his "brothers" could race to the finish during any romantic scenes, and then there were these two rare creatures:

It's like pure joy split into two beings

These two guys are some of the hardest to find citizens of the gamer world - the guys that make you ashamed to have the same hobby as they do. Since I dared not interrupt their witty, loud repartee to get their names, I've dubbed them Major Toht and Buttermouth. Major Toht, as you may have guessed is the fellow on the left. Apparently the night was ripe for a knee-length leather coat, a bowler hat he was holding in his right hand (gentlemen never wear hats inside) work boots with white socks, and round specs. It was this attire that earned him the moniker "Toht".

We're, hehe, not here to drink

His trusty sidekick in his gaming venture, the gentleman on the right in the above photo, was the louder one of the pair, sporting a shirt that would make Magnum, P.I. gag, some swanky linen pants, and some finely crafted moccasins (socks sold separately). He capped off the ensemble with a killer ponytail and they yellowest, most churn-golden chiclets that ever existed and could only be the product of a two-packs-a-day habit coupled with an immoral love of Easy Cheese. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Buttermouth.

Once i was settled in the back of the store and closer to the Dynamic Duo, a few things became clear. First, the guys were avid fans of the Adult Swim programming block as they were embroiled in a heated discussion about whether Titan Maximum was better than Robot Chicken. Apples to oranges? Such things do not exist to Toht and Buttermouth. Their chatting ranged all over from TV shows to movies, and finally settling in on video games.

It was about this time that the registers opened and Major Toht chimed in loudly with something he'd probably been rehearsing in his head all night: "Ok, so, who's here for MAG?" (which was also releasing at midnight). He followed up his query with a self-satisfied chuckle and a "who's with me?" look around the store. Buttermouth, like any good sidekick, was happy to support his pal and offered the dubious behind-the-back low five as a prize for his friend's zinger. Just before I passed out from the pain, I managed to get my game and get out of Dodge.

This friggin game better be worth it. Also, I won't be doing that again. I swear.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Awaiting Shepard Claus

So, Mass Effect 2 is almost here. Chuck has informed us that he will be attending a midnight release to "make sure he gets a copy." The idea behind this is both understandable and absurd. You see, he pre-ordered the game, but he did so from Gamestop. They have a habit of not having items you've already paid for when you come to pick them up. I can see a bleak future where the snarky 17-year-old behind the counter has abandoned "you should have pre-ordered it" and will resort to telling us we have to attend their midnight releases now.

Coming soon to a storefront near you!

Then he'll probably make a joke about me being old and staying up that late. Oh how the tables will turn when he tries to walk across my lawn. What a dick.

I pre-ordered my copy from Best Buy... where there are often *GASP* SURPLUS copies of new releases. Fear not late adopters (and by late, I mean release day), Best Buy will likely have more copies available than you care to buy. I don't even know for sure WHY I pre-ordered it... perhaps it was the promise of nifty armor. Maybe it was because I wanted to secure the collectors edition. Most likely it's just that I'm a sucker, and they're proving it one $5 deposit and shiny box at a time.

With Mass Effect 2 coming I tasked myself with completing Darksiders over the weekend. I wrapped it up last night around midnight. It was 15-20 hours of awesome (my exact finish time escapes me at the moment, but I think it was around 17 hours). You can find reviews of it all over the place, so I'll spare you another one. I will say that if you enjoy adventure games, Zelda, badassery, giant swords, and everything awesome, then you should play Darksiders.

So, everybody strap in and get ready. We're in the home stretch for the Mass Effect 2 launch. What's that Europe? Why yes, it is:

(Shepard Claus photo courtesy of Chuck, aka Poops.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Borderlands Gets Level Cap Increase

I just found this over at Kotaku. It appears that Borderlands is finally getting that level cap increase I know we all want so badly. The news was delivered one of Gearbox's designers via the official Gearbox Forums. The level cap increase will be delivered via what they're calling their biggest piece of DLC yet.

Oh yeah, and Kotaku points to this twitter feed which delivers even more good news: MORE SCOOTER!

It looks like I'll need to gear up to spend many more hours in Pandora. I'll be interested to see what Gearbox has up their sleeve this time. If it can be as good as The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and have the level cap increase then it should be able to wash that bad taste out of my mouth that was left by Mad Moxxi. Hopefully there will be something a little more official soon that includes an expected release date and, God willing, some screen shots or some kind of story description.

Somebody please take me to where the cars live so I can get me one!

Game Night: Left 4 VICTORY 2 Edition

Last night, Barry, Chuck, and I dove back into Left 4 Dead 2... and we once again decided to give the Dark Carnival campaign a shot. This time we had our big boy pants on and made it all the way through... though we left that d-bag Nick behind. This isn't Miami Vice, take off the fucking white suit asshole.

Calm down there Detective Crockett

Having played through the campaign once already helped us out a lot. We knew where to go, we had prior knowledge of the things ahead, and we were able to plan accordingly. Even though the conductor changes things up as you go, the toughest spots are still generally the same. For whatever reason we had a hell of a time finding the opening that led back to the "off" switch for the carousel... for the record, it's right by the "on" switch, and we're not that smart.

I supposed familiarity is one of the points of this game... you're not supposed to master things on your first shot. Having the conductor control the infected rather than everything being pre-programmed helps keep things fresh and makes every run different. Plus there are several achievements that require you to spend some real time with the game to unlock.

After we stood victorious over Nick's dead body in the Dark Carnival, we decided to make a run through Dead Center for Barry's sake since he hadn't unlocked the achievement yet. Apparently this was attempted without me one night, and success was beyond their grasp without their gaming Lord and Savior. Lucky for them I stepped in and led the team to the promise land (switching to easy probably had something to do with it too).

I'd say this was one of our more successful Game Nights in a while. Josh was left out of the mix because he hasn't purchased a copy of L4D2 yet... it's the deal of the day over at Amazon, so now is a good chance for everybody to get it on the cheap.

Oh, and just to say again what Barry stated yesterday. If anybody is reading this who'd like to jump in and play with us, feel free to add us to your Xbox Live and PSN.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Speaking of Citations

It has been noted that Ryan’s posts have become more abundant. It has also become clear that with his fountain of gaming knowledge and half truths that you readers have come to expect, he has also given away our identities. Heheh titties, sorry. It’s not as if anyone really cares but it’s like he ripped off the S under Clark Kent’s shirt, just spewing our names about like an everyday thing, like we’ve been rebranded. Chuck has expressed this in a recent group email but doesn’t want to do the work. Apparently I found some free time…

Name – Xbox Gamertag – PSN ID
Ryan – AirstrikeRhino – AirstrikeRhino
Barry – Humdinger24 – Tag_Youre_It
Chuck – PoopsMagee2112 – I’m too good for a PS3
Josh – Fenris Wolf 82 – Sony what?

Feel free to add us so that we may laugh together on Xbox live or so that at least Ryan and I have a less than mediocre list of friends on the PS3. Hopefully, one day, Chuck will grace us with his opinion of a game he’s played and maybe Josh could add some insight to what loot he’s picked up (read stolen) recently as well. Now back to Ryan’s Lifelock Mode. What’s your social security number?

Reach Out And Murder Someone

... see what I did there? No? Then perhaps I should explain. The video below has been making its way around the internet today (I found it first on Kotaku)

As you can see, the "leaked" footage shows the possibility of a new "Murder Mode" that may appear in Microsoft's latest addition to the Halo Universe, Halo: Reach. In the Kotaku post, Ashcraft speculates that perhaps the footage wasn't REALLY leaked in the traditional I-stole-yo-game sense, but rather that Microsoft allowed it to get out to generate a little buzz. This type of speculation always comes with any leaked footage, and rightfully so. Viral marketing has always been a very effective way to sell a product, and it's not inconceivable that Microsoft could be behind this. Especially when adding the word "Murder" to a game that's never really counted on over-the-top violence, gore, or controversy to sell their game. Sure, people have bitched about it... but mostly because you're killing things with guns, not because Microsoft or Bungie ever set out to get that reaction. I hope there's no reaction at all. I have no problem with the name given to this alleged mode, and I assume MOST of you out there never even gave it a second thought. Well, I should take that back. I DO have a problem with it because the name sounds a little dumb and on the nose, but not because it implies violence. However, I can't help but wonder if maybe Microsoft is letting this get out there to see how the general public will react. It may seem silly, but growing up, I know plenty of friends who's parents would immediately walk away from any game they heard had a "murder mode". I know, the ESRB ratings are there, but we all know that these games make their way into the hands of "underage" gamers all the time. I should note that I don't have a problem with this. If the kid is mature enough, a decision that SHOULD be made by parents, then I don't see the big deal. At any rate, I wouldn't be surprised to see the game released with a "stealth mode" for no good reason.

Stay tuned for the less anticipated, Citation Mode. YOU CAN'T PARK THAT WARTHOG HERE!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Which I Give My Thoughts on Army of 2: The 40th Day

The plan for the end of the week and weekend was to try to push through Darksiders. However, the purchase of Army of 2: The 40th Day sidelined that plan for at least a little while. There's typically a small window of opportunity in our group to partake in co-op activities. We play a lot of games, and it's been a long while since we devoted more than a week or two to any one. So, with Barry screaming through multiple play throughs of Ao2: TFD I had to make the executive decision to join him, lest I be stuck running solo in a game that thrives on co-op play between two actual humans.

This time our ambiguous mercenaries, Salem and Rios, are out in Shanghai, and as in any situation, be it video game or movie, things don't go as planned. What looked like easy money quickly turns into a fight for their lives full of moral choices as they try to escape Shanghai and finally have that beer they keep talking about (and likely a few tender moments).

I didn't play all the way through the original Army of 2, but I did play enough to notice some of the improvements. For starters the shooting, though still not perfect, is improved. I felt like things reacted slightly faster and more accurately than in the first iteration. There was also a noticeable improvement in the way the cover system behaved. In the first Ao2, there was a slight delay between pulling the LT and your character peeking out of cover to aim down their sights. I remember this driving me crazy, and I'm glad to see it's been fixed for The 40th Day.

Army of 2: The 40th Day also boasts a heavy amount of weapon customization. You have the choice between several different stocks, barrels, cartridges, scopes, suppressors, and front mounts. Suppressors include bayonets... and those include a screw driver. Fuck. Yes. Front mounts are items like hand grips, shields, a grenade launcher... and that awesome shotgun add-on called the Master Key. Once again: Fuck. Yes. The whole idea of mounting a gun to a gun still kicks a lot of ass. You could easily spend an hour or 2 customizing all of your guns. Plus, it adds a little replay value since you can't easily grab all of the parts on your first run through without knowing exactly what choices to make. It's also unlikely that you'll earn enough money in one play through to buy all add-ons and guns.

As for the overall gameplay, everything works very well. The story is, as usual in games like this, a little lacking and somewhat full of holes. But, you likely won't care much once you get into the action. The gun play is solid. Salem and Rios move around a little slowly, but it fits in with the pacing of the combat very well. This isn't a game where you're often running and gunning. Cover is key and you'll spend most of your time sprinting from one location to the next, ducking into cover, and picking off enemies from there.

Just to point this out, headshots from a sniper rifle or Desert Eagle cause a very satisfying pop.

Visually the game looks very good. The environments are well built and you won't run into any of those frustrating hit detection problems that so often appear when trying to shoot between balcony railings and the like. Many of the cut scenes go into a very Borderlands-esque art style as you watch Shanghai be utterly destroyed. It's all executed very well.

The game has also added in a gauge of how moral you decide to be through out the game. Doing things like tying up guards and rescuing prisoners will give you a big plus sign on the morality scale. As far as I could tell, your level of morality in these situations rarely had an effect on the game. However, rescuing certain sets of hostages often rewards you with weapon parts, or in one case, that head-asploding Desert Eagle I mentioned. There are larger moral choices throughout the game which can also reward you with money or weapon parts. These larger choices require you to press "A" or "B" (I played on the Xbox 360) and are followed by a cutscene that shows you the immediate and long term consequences of your choice. You may consider this a "spoiler" but I'll let you know right now: You will not feel all that good regardless of the choice you make. EA was a real dick on this point.

The aggro system is back and you can work out simple, but fun strategies if you're playing with another person. There are a few larger enemies that require you to flank them or work yourself behind them. One player can usually stay behind cover and draw all the aggro while your partner sneaks around. You also have the option to remove silencers and scopes on the fly. Removing your silencer can help increase your aggro for those situations when you get the honor of playing decoy. To further help out your aggro strategies, there are often 2 paths for Salem and Rios to take. We found it beneficial to split up and take turns drawing aggro while the other person picked off unsuspecting enemies.

Still, as much awesomeness as they pack in, the game isn't perfect. There were times that I felt almost as if the guns had preset notches of movement. A slight tap left would, at times, cause a sort of "jump" in the reticule rather than a steady controlled shift. I don't mean it moved too quickly. I mean it seemed to only be able to look in one spot or the other. This would result in over-shooting what I was trying to aim for, and would start a sort of back and forth reticule dance across my target. I didn't notice this as much with the sniper rifles which I assume were slightly more fine tuned to serve their intended purpose. "Gun Sway" is still present, and it's reasonable. I actually like the addition of this in games. It adds a little more true skill to the art of sniping.

It also would have been nice to see the moral choices have more effect on the game itself. Sure, you can get some nice loot, but if you're going to include this stuff, then maybe make it more consequential. Then again, maybe that's not what this game was trying to be... perhaps the whole POINT of the morality system was just a means for collecting items. I'm just not sure I see the real point of it in the way it was executed. Plus, like I said, there's not really a "right" choice... the cut scene ends up making you feel like an asshole anyway.

Overall I found the game to be incredibly entertaining. It's definitely more enjoyable if you can recruit a buddy to play with you. EA has made the right improvements and brought a better product to the table this time around. They even cut down a lot on the bro-love... though you can still voluntarily give bro hugs. I don't know that I'd put it down as a definite "buy" but it's one you should give a shot at some point.

Mass Effect 2 Gets Even Closer

I've been working on a review of Army of 2: The 40th Day. My hope it to have it posted by tomorrow. With that, I guess you can assume that I have, in fact, played through the game. I'm actually on my second playthrough right now as I do some achievement hunting. Barry and I conquered that beast. I also noticed that Josh picked it up and was playing it with his roommate. Not to give away too much, but everybody enjoyed it.

So, Mass Effect 2 continues to be what is on everybody's mind. The first one was a game that locked all of us down for a while. The story gripped me hard and I came home every night ready to see what happened next. I think the last mission of the game might have been one of the most satisfying and exciting gaming experiences I've ever had.

There is a disturbance in the force. Barry's console has finally given up on him. It will be on it's way to Microsoft in the next day or so. It's highly unlikely that it will be back in time for the release. I can imagine it's causing some honest-to-God distress for the poor guy. If anybody has a 360 to lend, I'm sure he'd pay in "favors". That's as specific as I care to get.

So, I've been gone from this space since Thursday and most of my time since then was wrapped up in Ao2: TFD. However, I did take a little time to download and try out 'Splosion Man. I was very impressed. I found myself laughing a lot at the goofy sound effects and ridiculous animations. You're a man who explodes... and when you kill an enemy they turn into all your standard "grilling-on-the-weekend" fair. It's a clever, fun, hilarious game that is AT LEAST worth a run through the demo. The control scheme is incredibly simple too... pretty much every button makes you explode. It's awesome.

Well, that's about all I've got. Keep an eye out for my full thoughts on Army of 2: The 40th Day very soon. Sorry for the short, and somewhat un-entertaining post. It's late, and it's been quiet around the Axis. Expect better soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We Suck At L4D2, EA Hates Barry, and RRODs

The Axis played a little four player Left 4 Dead 2 last night, and about all I have to say is that we really are not good at that game... yet. We tried the Dark Carnival campaign and things were going swimmingly until the last stand on the Midnight Riders' stage. And, even then, things went pretty well until the chopper arrived. This is when we put our "suck" on full display for all the undead to see... and that Tank... and that Jockey... I think the Spitter was there... maybe a Hunter in the mix too. That is to say, there were a lot of special infected in the area when the chopper arrived. On our first attempt at the finale we were learning the lay of the land. We found the health packs, ammo, pipe bombs, etc. Our concern was not knowing where rescue would come from or where it would finally settle to wait for us. To complicate things we had a fucking gnome in tow the entire time. There's a carnival game you can play early on, and scoring 750 points or more drops ol' Gnome Chompski. There's an achievement for rescuing him, and dammit, we were going to get it.

That first attempt ended when the chopper arrived while were were all out of position. I had to run back for the gnome, A tank showed up, there was a jockey out there, plus a horde wave. We got spread out between the stage and the chopper and everybody went down.

On attempt number two, we had a little more success. We placed the gnome by the final resting spot of the chopper, then took our spot on the stage. Everything was pretty uneventful until, once again, the chopper showed up. We all kind of got over NEAR the chopper, but then a seemingly invincible Jockey got a hold of Barry and rode him off into the sunset. Rescue attempts were useless and ultimately stupid... but we fucking mastered in Stupid in college (I know right, "you went to college?"). Fast forward a solid 10 seconds: that limey Ben is sitting on the chopper (with the gnome), Chuck is out, Barry is out, and I'm hobbling back at 1% health. Enter the giant piece of concrete the Tank likes to magically pull from his pocket. They try to make it look like he pulls a chunk off of whatever he's standing on... but he was on some wooden bleachers (aluminum at best)... anyway, I died. Ben took off with the chopper. Nobody made it start to finish (Ben entered the game after the first safe house); therefore nobody got any achievements. We might take another stab at this tonight.

After we completed our lecture on fail, I took to watching some TV and chatting with Ben and Barry while they tried to set up a game of Army of 2: 40 Bro-hugs a Day (I mock it... but I still bought it). EA decides that Barry is not in their target demographic (Do Chinese people want to play games that take place in China?) and won't let him into their servers. So Ben and I went through about the first 30 minutes of the game. I enjoyed it. The controls are a little sluggish and take some getting used to, but it was fun to be sure.

Let me revisit Barry's problems for a bit. His 360 is bordering on busted right now. He was going all old school NES on it to try and make it work... right down to blowing into the disk drive. He smacked it around a bit and it finally started reading disks. I could just see him pressing the power button and getting that fucking screen that flashed between blue and static. That was always awesome. It didn't help that the first Nintendo I ever owned spent a couple of years hooked up to a TV that had to "warm up" before anything could be watched on it. So that made the "work dammit!" song and dance all the more fun. Anyway, to summarize, Barry will be getting a visit from the RROD fairy soon.

Which brings me to this morning. EA finished their background check on Barry and let him into their precious game. He contacted Ben and they agreed to meet in the virtual space for some Ao2. This is where Ben's 360 promptly red ringed. It's a real shit storm out there kids.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Game Night: Left 4 Dead 2 Edition

It's Wednesday, and in IYA land that used to mean game night. Tonight we try to fire that back up with a little Left 4 Dead 2. Chuck and I managed to play through the first campaign about a month ago when we actually bought the game. It was a great time, but for some reason the game has played the part of expensive coaster ever since. Since games started incorporating more co-op game modes, games have become a very social experience for me (to the point that my friends and I have a chat party open on Xbox Live even when we're playing different games). So, games like Borderlands and L4D2 are right up my alley. I'm definitely looking forward to playing the part of a portly black coach with a bad knee as I mow through waves of zombies. I had a portly black coach in 2nd and 3rd grade... coach Salari. That guy was awesome. He used to hit golf balls during gym class and make the kids go pick them up. We loved that shit... only now, as and adult, do I realize how fucked up it was. So yeah, tonight coach Salari will make zombies his bitch. GO SHAG BULLETS ZOMBIES!!!

An event transpired last night that has me somewhat torn. Barry purchased Army of 2: The 40th Day, as mentioned in yesterday's post. The problem I'm having is that he sounded like he was having so much damn fun playing it. It has diamond encrusted grenades... let that sink in and I'll say it again... DIAMOND ENCRUSTED GRENADES. This love this kind of absolutely ridiculous stuff in games. Some of the most fun I had in the past year was playing co-op through 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, and the reason for that was the absolute over the top idiocy of the game (you're a rap artist fighting through an army in the middle east on a mission to recover your diamond encrusted skull...) Barry tells me Army of 2: The 40th Day also has a shotgun bayonet. The idea of this absolutely blows my mind. It's mounting a gun to a gun... if you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with yourself. Even if he was wrong, and it's just a bayonet you mount to a shotgun it's still awesome. A shotgun is typically a short range weapon, but while you're there you might as well conserve ammo and just stab the guy. So, it looks like that plan of not buying anything between now and the Mass Effect 2 release went right out the window. I'll be practicing my fist pounds all day at the office in preparation.

Hey, that's a fucking awesome copy you just made *fist pound*.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Did You Know That Mass Effect 2 Is Near?

I stepped out and pre-ordered my copy of Mass Effect 2 yesterday. I'm incredibly excited about this. The first game tied up a lot of my time for at least a couple of weeks... I know Barry finished the game some ridiculous number of times (like 12... I'm not exaggerating). The story in the first game was one of the best I've gone through in a very long time. So, I'm curious and happy to see what is to become of Shepard and his group.

However, Mass Effect 2 isn't the only thing hitting shelves soon. Army of 2: The 40th Day drops today. As far as I know Barry and Ben are picking that up and plan to share many bro-hugs and fist pounds throughout. I just hope for the sake of all involved that the game doesn't allow split screen lest they end up in a spooning position. Bioshock 2 comes out in a few weeks at the beginning of February. I haven't been too terribly excited about this one. I'll likely put it in my "maybe" pile and wait for review scores to start hitting the web. Then in March, Final Fantasy XIII and a new expansion for Dragon Age: Origins are being released. I'll likely pick up FF XIII, but I never played through Dragon Age, so an expansion is unlikely to pique my interest.

In current events I continue to make my way through Darksiders and it still rings of absolute awesome. I'm hoping to finish that and have a lot more to say by the end of the weekend. I took out Tiamat last night!

Anyway, it should be a good few months. Mass Effect is easily my most anticipated game. I think between Darksiders and a little bit of back log I've got laying around, I should be able to hold off buying anything else between now and January 26th. I'm going to see if Best Buy is doing another midnight release... and then I'm going to not attend because that shit was weak for Halo 3 ODST.

If you give us a read, let us know what you're anticipating most in the next few months.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Night With Mad Moxxi

I spent Saturday night in Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, the most recent pack of DLC for Borderlands. I think after playing through about 55 rounds of punishment I can agree with a lot of the reviews circulating out there.

For those of you who don't know, Madd Moxxi's Underdome Riot is Borderland's attempt at a "horde mode" or "firefight" mode. However, they take out any XP progression (though you can still complete the in game challenges which give you XP) and greatly reduce the loot drops. You do earn 2 skill points. There are 3 maps. First you are tasked with tearing through 5 rounds consisting of 5 waves on each map. Once you've completed that, you are given access to the "Larger Challenges"... this ups the investment (and it is that, believe me) to TWENTY ROUNDS. Once you've played through the 5 round sessions, you'll begin to understand how truly ridiculous that is.

Essentially what they've done is create an experience that focuses on just the shooting in the game. I probably enjoy the shooting in Borderlands more than most, but even with that it doesn't quite hold up on it's own. I found as I played through Mad Moxxi that apparently a large part of my love for the shooting was based on the fact that it lead to loot and XP. It was almost Pavlovian. The larger challenges really start to highlight how much you miss the progression. It's a lot of work for a small reward... even for an achievement hunter like me. Even the loot drops you DO get at the end of every round are typically useless if you've played through the game and found some good mainstay weapons.

To make matters worse, if you fail a round you are sent back to the beginning of the previous round. So, even if you're on Round 6 Wave 5 when your party wipes, you will now have to go back to Round 5 Wave 1. This can become incredibly disheartening when you've likely already invested a lot of time by the first party wipe. It's even more punishing in the late rounds of the greater challenges. If players start going down, and you have to drop back a round, the urge to quit is tough to fight off.

Now to give you an idea of the amount of time needed to finish the larger challenges I'll give you a recap of my experience. We first tried it with four level 50 characters. This proved to be idiotic because it made all the enemies level 50 as well. We wiped in the 7th round, dropped back to 6, wiped, then quit (this probably took a little over an hour). About a week later we revisited the larger challenges, only this time the host player used a level 37 character. This made all the enemies level 36 or 37. Our party consisted of a Level 37 Siren, a Level 47 Soldier, a Level 50 Soldier, and a Level 50 Berserker. We managed to make it through all of the larger challenges without wiping... however, it took a total of NINE HOURS. Each one took about 3 hours. We finally shut things down around 4 AM just sick of it... I don't even know why the fuck we did it. I think at some point it was just a mixture of masochism and spite. Or maybe nobody wanted to be the guy to say "hey, this is fucking stupid..." Either way, we did it, and I can't say I'm all that happy about it. I should reiterate here that I LOVE Borderlands.

So, what could have been done differently? I think adding another 5, Mad Moxxi-specific, levels would have helped soften the blow. You don't want this DLC to become a grind farm for players, so you only allow them to gain these five levels within the DLC. You could even make it so that these levels could ONLY be gained in the Underdome. This would make it so that it wasn't a "true" level cap increase (and even if you called it a true increase, would that be so horrible?)... but it would certainly be a great reward for those who powered through all 60 rounds of the larger challenges. They could have also allowed loot drops from enemies... even if they wanted to allow it at a lower frequency it would have helped my motivation a little. Last... why 20 rounds? It just seems like overkill and it stops being fun well before you finish. If they wanted to make it 20 rounds, they could have at least included the option to save after a round so that you could revisit it later (yeah, in case I didn't mention it earlier, there's no way to save your progress mid-challenge)... once you start you're in for the long haul).

So... there you have it. Once again, Borderlands is a game I really enjoy. Mad Moxxi's Underdome riot just didn't do it justice. I'll be keeping an eye out for the next DLC pack... and I hope they wise up and give us what we want: more levels, more skill points, better guns. I'd also like to see the bank from Mad Moxxi patched into the major cities so that you can access your stored items from there as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mechwarrior: Living Legends... ready to make me buy a new PC.

About a week ago, I saw this post over at Kotaku... and suddenly my Mech pants were fitting way too tight. As anybody who knows me, or who reads this site (all 3 of you) know I loves me some Mechwarrior.

Today I took a trip over to the actual Mechwarrior: Living Legends website and found that they had posted a couple of tutorials to run through some of the basics of the game. This only had me further foaming at the mouth. The game is a Crysis mod, so it looks gorgeous... far better, of course, than my fond memories of Mechwarrior 4 (which ran on it's highest setting on my old 400 MHz pentium). From what I can tell by reading around on the site, Living Legends doesn't offer much in the way of telling any part of the Mechwarrior story (it's a multiplayer only affair); however, it does expand into the vehicular combat of the universe. This is something that's never been explored before in Mechwarrior games and I'm interested to see how it works.

The game requires a copy of Crysis (which I don't have) and a computer that can run it (which I also don't have). Actually, I haven't checked out the requirements on Crysis in a while, so it's possible that my new laptop could run it... but something doesn't feel right about playing "sims" on a laptop. If anybody gives this things a spin, I'd like to hear how it works... and of course I'm looking right at you and your fancy desktop computers, Barry.

Mechwarrior: Living Legends is not to be confused with the upcoming "official" Mechwarrior game that released a teaser trailer several months ago... although it does look to be a hell of a gap filler while we wait.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

AirstrikeRhino's Complaint Department: Assassin's Creed 2

Assassin's Creed 2 has been around for a few months now... if you played it, you undoubtedly liked it. Everybody liked it right? And why shouldn't you? It's an improvement over the original (so they say) and it's among the last of the big blockbusters for the year. It let you use all kinds of different weapons to slay your enemies... you got to climb around on building, use smoke bombs, use throwing knives... I mean you're an assassin, what's not to love, right?

Well, no game is perfect, and I'll list some of my complaints here. I'll be honest, I found more flaws with the game than the other members of the Axis. I'm toning down my hate in hopes of striking some kind of reasonable debate... or some noble shit like that.

1. Maaaney, Maaaney!

The inhabitants of the city speak a weird form of Italianglish (the Italian version of Spanglish). I'm sure on some level it borders on offensive... but to me it was just annoying. The biggest criminal here was the voice of a citizen screaming "maaaney, maaaney" every time Ezio threw money onto the ground to distract guards and those God-awful lute players.

2. Those God-awful lute players

Yeah, fuck those guys

3. Parkour Learners Permit

Moving Ezio around the world seems like it should be an exciting experience. He's able to climb any building, jump between rooftops, and balance on even the narrowest of beams and posts. This sounds like a formula for greatness... however, for me, it was a formula for utter frustration. I think the last time I even had the urge to throw a controller was at or around the age of 9. I'm 27... and the free running in Assassin's Creed 2 almost brought me back to those 8-bit days of rage (almost... I'm an adult for crying out loud and controllers aren't cheap nor is anything I'd likely hit with it). When moving slowly Ezio was, for the most part, manageable. However, there were many story quests and side missions which required you to move quickly to chase a target or run from pursuit. It was in these moments I would often find Ezio being launch in random directions to fall to his death. I'm still not sure if this was because the controls were too precise or too loose. It seemed like at crucial moments... say, when approaching the edge of a rooftop, the camera would shift ever so slightly. When precision was needed to make a jump at high speed, this would make adjusting difficult. It just seemed to me like the camera rarely stayed directly behind Ezio when free running... which would have allowed for you to simply press forward to hold your bearing when coming to ledges.

Also I understand the desire to show off their physics... Ezio, though super human in his strength, moves much like you would expect a person to move while climbing along walls and dropping from one hanging spot to the next. My problem with this is that I would expect a person trying to perform these super human feats to move very slowly... which Ezio does. He feels more like a lumbering giant... the controls feel very sluggish as you try to climb walls and jump between ledges. Like I said, I understand the desire to show off some realism... but we're talking about a game in which you're reliving the memories of your ancestors via a machine that decodes your DNA (which apparently stores all of your ancestors' memories), you can openly walk around a city wearing a giant assassin's emblem on your belt without drawing much attention even after killing noted city officials, the templars are still an active organization bent on world domination, and wanted signs are placed in locations that nobody but the wanted party will ever see. So, I think we can take a few liberties with the climbing physics for the sake of game pace and frustration reduction.

4. Keep Your Fancy Menus To Yourself

This may be getting nit picky... as I'm sure most of this post is given how well this game reviewed... but one of my biggest pet peeves in a game is slow menus and pause screens. Assassin's Creed 2 tries to add the Animus flare to the menus, but all it does is slow everything down with stylish animations as you click through each page. I don't know much about how these menus are designed, or the programming that goes into the transition from game play to menu browsing. What I do know, is that a lot of games manage to make it seamless so I know it's possible. This is a game in which you bring up the map fairly often to check for mission locations, set way points, and search for treasures. So, a faster transition from game to map/menu would have been greatly appreciated and something I think would have been worth the extra attention.

5. I Didn't Say You Could Keep The Fun

When it really came down to it, I just didn't find myself having much fun while playing the game. The issues with the controls during free running were by far my biggest complaint. At times it left me dreading the next mission for fear of having another chase sequence. I tried to stay away from race mission altogether (though I do appreciate the option of skipping most of those). Walking around the world in general was boring, and having to run back to fast travel stations in order to move between cities, though better than riding that fucking horse everywhere, still seemed unnecessary. I think much of the pacing of the game just seemed too slow for the type of game it's trying to be. Even the parts that were "fast" managed to mess up the pacing with sluggish controls. This made parts that should have been fun, frustrating instead.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! The ending of this year isn't so memorable but here's what the gang has been up to so far. Poops is very busy at work and couldn't even make the party in Houston. Fenris is starting his professional engineering exam refresher course. Rhino had his personal life cut in half and I'm still waiting on this job lead. Hopefully things will turn out for the best in 2010 (pronouced twenty ten) for everyone.