Endangered Species

There are very few things in this world I am a minority in. I am a white male, from the suburbs of Connecticut, from a middle class family that is fairly religious. From all accounts, I have it made. This, of course, has led to my great white guilt and subsequent liberal views on the world. Damn you whitey!

But the one very, very, very small minority I was happy to belong to was the club of about 7 of us that have had Xbox 360s since launch that had not given us the Red Ring of Death. I’m sorry to report that as of 10:30am August 27th, 2008…. I am no longer a part of this group any longer. Microsoft’s blatant prejudice against people having working consoles has alluded me for a long time but I am their latest victim.

It’s something I’ve been flirting with for a while now. My Xbox is a fairly loud piece of electronics. The HDD has also been very slow, taking minutes to fill out my games list. I got the occasional Dirty Disc Error also, and all of these things made me think my days were numbered. I held out for a long time though. It’s been acting this way for years and has survived, while my PS3 (which doesn’t seem to break for anyone else) shit the bed with a faulty blu-ray drive.

I don’t know if there are any hard numbers on this, and if there are they are from Microsoft and probably skewed in their favor, but just speaking anecdotaly I know of one other person who hasn’t had a RROD. This is probably out of about 50 guys I know (through forums mostly) that have the system. And, anecdotaly, most of these guys have had to send their machines in multiple times. None of the systems seem to be immune either, the Elite has RROD’d, the Normal one has RROD’d, the newer version with the HDMI outputs has RROD’d, the Arcade one has RROD’d. How have they not fixed this problem yet? It’s perplexing.

Needless to say I am not a happy camper right now. My PS3 still hasn’t been repaired because I’ve been saving for a new PC and for a trip this coming weekend with my better half. But at least on the PS3 I can play downloaded games (Ratchet and Clank and Bionic Commando were gonna be the focus of my post today, but I’ll save that for tomorrow now). So here I am with a 3+ year old PC using on board video, a PS3 with a shot blu-ray drive and 360 with the almighty RROD. My life is terrible! Thank internet Jesus for World of Warcraft, I guess.

Hopefully the turn around on my 360 will be fast. Most of my internet nerd friends who have had theirs replaced in the past few weeks have said it’s been as quick as two weeks. But this has left my NCAA Football dynasty in a lurch. I can sometimes get my 360 to work for 3-5 minutes, which gave me a big enough window to switch myself from being the commissioner of the online dynasty I am running, but there is no option to do that. This is a big oversight on EA’s part as they should assume that everyone’s fucking Xbox would be exploding every 2-3 weeks and switching leaders would be needed. Maybe the designers are part of the final 6 with systems that haven’t shit the bed yet.

I’m gonna miss you Battlefield: Bad Company. I’m gonna miss you most online dynasty in NCAA. I’m even gonna miss you Madden 09. Hopefully I’ll be back to feeling your tender embrace in a few short weeks.

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Demo Mania!!11!!

Well, as I alluded to yesterday, there isn’t jack to play right now. My girlfriend’s brother let me borrow The Bourne Conspiracy for the Xbox 360. I haven’t thrown that in yet but I plan to later today. Also, Sony dropped the new download only Ratchet and Clank game on the PSN and I downloaded that last night but had to work so I’ve yet to play that either. But atleast I have stuff to write about later in the week. I told myself I was going to try to post every day this week, part as a writing exercise to see if I can write without having actual content, and part because my 1 post last week was pathetic and I owe it to people that come here to get more stuff up. And then at the end of the week me and ladyfriend are off to Niagara Falls, which i’ve never been to, though my parents tell me I conceived in the back of a Dotson during a trip of theirs up that way. It’s gonna be a paradox of epically weird sexual proportions.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I decided to check out both PSN and the 360 for any demos I may have missed in the past couple weeks and was pleased to find quite a few.

First up was Soul Caliber 4, on the 360. I loved SC on the Dreamcast back in the day but these days I’m not so much into fighting games anymore (though, I must say, I do have a boner for Street Fighter HD). But, that said, i had a pretty good time with the demo. It’s a strong demo, unlike Madden which was an abortion of epic proportions. You get to do a couple fights and then it shows Yoda and you’re all like “awww shit I’m gonna fight Yoda” and then the demo fades out and says something along the lines of “buy this shit, bitch.” It had enough gameplay to not feel cheap, but it also dangled what you wanted to see in front of you to pull that $60 out of your pocket. I, personally, am not gonna get the game (well, maybe in a year, used, for sub $30), but I was impressed with the graphics and the gameplay. Soul Caliber 4 is a solid game and I know fighting fans have already been enjoying this for weeks.

The next one I decided to try out was NHL 2k9. I am not the hugest hockey fan on the planet, I’m pretty much a playoffs only type fan, but some of my favorite sports gaming memories are from hockey games. But, I also know that EA’s NHL 09 is going to redefine what sports games are all about this year with it’s MMO-like system of building hockey squads with players that level up as you all play together, 6v6. That hook, alone, has already guaranteed that money will be flying out of my wallet and into some Gamestop. So NHL 2k9 was already defeated before I even fired it up. Luckily for me, it wasn’t all that fun either. I scored on my first shot of the game, 5 seconds into it. The graphics are weird, I mean it looks kinda good, but also just kinda weird. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s not very realistic looking. Stiff maybe? I dunno, it just came across as goofy. After going up 3-0 about halfway through the first period I turned it off. I saw all i needed to see. I knew I wasn’t going to get the game and the demo just hammered that home. I will give it kudos though for having decent length periods for a demo.

I decided to stay on a sports kick and fired up Tiger Woods 2009. This was the first demo of the day of a game that was in my “maybe” list of stuff to pick up. It features 3 holes, standard for a golf demo, so I was happy about that. But, man, Tiger is really starting to show its age. I haven’t played a Tiger Woods game in about 3 years and this game felt no different than what I remembered. Also the graphics are mediocre at best. Back in the day, games like Links on the PC had graphics that just blew away all other games on the market, mostly because all they have to do is render a course so they can really go balls out on the thing. But evidently the Tiger team never got that memo and the game looks worse that far more complex games that have tons more stuff happening on the screen. And the “Tap the A button while the ball is in the air” to make your spin is so freakin arcade like that it makes the sim enthusiast in me cry. And I don’t like to cry. This game is a pass for me this year.

The last game on my demo list was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I had no idea what to think of this game as I’ve read about it over the last few months. Star Wars, for me (and I’m assuming a lot of people around my age), is an enigma. On the one hand I absolutely loved it as a kid, still loved it as a teenager, got slightly pissed as an older teenager with the special editions and then wanted to jump off a cliff as the prequels came out, save the third one which is halfway decent, but still not good. The franchise that I once loved more than anything just seems like a joke to me now, something that it took me too long to grow out of. But, along the way, there have been a handful of great Star Wars games that tap into what is cool about the franchise (and a dump truck full of bad Star Wars games that prove everything terrible about it). Games like Knights of the Old Republic or even the Jedi Knight FPSs are gaming gold.

So with trepidation I fired up The Force Unleashed and I must say that I had a damn good time playing it. I couldn’t really get a feel for whether there is much of a story, the demo basically starts out with Darth Vadar telling you that there is a Jedi at so and so place and you have to go there and murder everyone including the Jedi. I like to murder everyone. I was excited. The game started and I assumed that the saber was gonna be controlled with the right stick (this only makes sense, right?). Well, i was wrong there, and I think that is a missed opportunity, but the controls and gameplay they do have are spot on. I was in situations with dozens of dudes shooting at me and I was slicing them up with my light saber and using lightning ala The Emperor and throwing objects around the room and generally just felt like a serious kickass Jedi. And that’s all I would want out of a Star Wars game at this point. The demo has me sold. I hope there is a decent story line with it, but even if there isn’t the tools in which you can dispatch numerous foes are impressive and fun. I’ll be all over this when it drops, money and girlfriend permitting.

Is it over yet?

Man, what a beat ass month! FU August! You have left me here day after day with nothing new to play. I keep coming to this blog to write some stuff up and realize I have absolutely nothing to talk about. But I need to write posts! Why do you forsake me, August?

September should be pretty freakin awesome, especially on the PC. Spore is going to have that magic that only Will Wright can create. I posted about the character creator a few months back, and it seems like the community is just foaming at the mouth to play their creations. My girlfriend even spent a fair bit of time with it and really enjoyed putting together these bizarro creatures. I haven’t messed around with it yet, to me it’s just a tease of a game I can’t play. But it’s coming soon and I for one can’t wait. And lets not forget about the SPORN (this is completely NSFW!!!!)!

The other huge PC release of September is definitely Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. If you have been living in a cave for the last couple years WAR is the heir apparent to the more PVP minded MMORPG folks out there. It went into its first beta over a year ago and reports out of that were dismal at best. But instead of rushing the game to the market (hihi Age of Conan) they spent a full year tweaking it and fleshing it out. A new, more public phase of the beta started this past weekend for some of those that pre-ordered it. Word from folks I trust is that the game is very, very fun and it has a whole buttload of cool ideas. Everything from public quests to the sieges sound like a great time. One of the few complaints I’ve read is that the combat is slower than World of Warcraft, which I know from playing Lord of the Rings Online can be quite a hurdle to get over… but with LOTRO I eventually did get into a groove with the speed of the game and I am assuming the same will happen with WAR.

And of course beta reports from Wrath of the Lich King are popping up everywhere. It’s Blizzard though, so who knows when the thing will actually make it to the market. The expansion sounds promising though with a number of changes that should help balance the gameplay quite a bit.

But this is all the future, the present and past month have been pretty horrendous. While I am much more forgiving of Madden’s faults these days, I am actually enjoying it quite a bit, it still isn’t the football game I wanted it to be. But it never is, so no shock there. But overall the gameplay has improved, and the graphics have improved and it’s generally just a fun game to sit down and play. This is an upgrade over the last few years, for sure.

Too Human also seems to be the train wreck everyone was hoping it would be. Bland enemies, combat, environments and story mar what would otherwise be a fun loot pinata game. How did this game take so long to create? It’s the Daikatana of this generation, for sure.

And that’s about it, folks. After a stellar beginning to the year and what looks like an amazing end to the year, the doldrums of summer have lived up to their billing. I’ve been plugging away at World of Warcraft, and quite enjoying myself, and playing some Madden and some NCAA Football and still shooting fools in Battlefield: Bad Company…. so life isn’t horrible, but it’s not where it should be. Next year I implore a developer to release a big game in August, you will have the whole month to clean up sales.

Everything right in the World (of Warcraft)

A few weeks back I had a rather large bitch post about what I thought the failings in World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade were. I figured it was decent idea to write a companion piece about everything I absolutely adore about WoW and this expansion. And yes, of course, there are going to be a fair number of contradictions with my previous post. That is the fucked up mess that WoW turns people like me into.

1. Quests – The quests the second you get to The Outlands all of a sudden take a huge jump in quality. They are more fun, more varied and there are just more of them. Plus the rewards from the quests are actually good, for the most part, unlike the quests from levels 1-58 that will give you cloth with + strength and other such nonsense. There is a fair bit of repetition in the quests, of course, but overall your time questing will be substantially funner once you hit The Outlands.

2. Loot / Itemization (pre endgame) – I guess this type of itemization actually started in the dungeons and raids at level 60, but it gets continued through TBC at a blistering pace. Levels 1-58 you pretty much only care about (and can get) stuff with Int/Str/Agi and Stam. Once you hit The Outlands you start to have to balance more stats like spell hit, spell crit, spell damage, armor penetration, spell penetration, defense, etc… It makes gearing your character more interesting because you can go all spell damage and live with your fizzled spells, or you can go all haste to get more spells out quickly, but with less damage. It just opens a lot of room to make your toon a bit more individualized.

3. There is so much crap to do! – During levels 58-70 you will never be without a full quest log and at least 2 dungeons you can be doing at the time. Once you hit 70 the number of factions that you can grind solo is amazing… everything from Netherwing to get yourself a Netherdrake, to the Shattered Sun Offensive to get some pretty sweet gear and patterns. I’ve been level 70 for about 3 weeks now on my latest guy and other than runs through Magister’s Terrace I’ve had tons and tons and tons of solo content to work on, none of which I’m finished with yet.

4. Magister’s Terrace – I just brought this up so I figured I would expound on it and give it the props it deserves. MgT is by far the hardest and coolest 5 man instance in the game. It’s so refreshing to be doing a 5 man that takes skill to complete. I guess the dark underbelly of this is that if you PuG it chances are it will be a disaster. Just last night, actually, a friend from my guild and myself joined a PuG and the run took 3 hours and we didn’t even finish. Finally 5 man groups have an idiot check. But, yeah, it sucks when you are playing with those idiots. This isn’t a complaint though, I love that it is difficult.

5. Daily Quests – Probably the biggest change to the game in the expansion, in a time spent standpoint. At level 60 in vanilla WoW you reached a point where there was just nothing to do between raids. With the advent of daily quests (and the rep grinds they bring with them) you always have something to do. And there is enough of them that you can switch which ones you do each day to keep them fresh. This isn’t to say that they aren’t sometimes tedious, because they certainly are, but when it comes to passing time and making money I vastly prefer it to farming fire elementals or whatever other stupid crap I did in vanilla WoW at level 60.

6. Heroics – I had hoped for more out of heroics, I was hoping that they wouldn’t just be the same mobs but more difficult… and for the most part that is all they are. But, they are still pretty damn fun. Like i stated before I enjoy a challenge and some of them present a pretty large challenge. And with badge loot always calling out your name with newer and shinier epics there is always reasons to run them. Whoever at Blizzard came up with the idea to make a Heroic Daily Quest should get a raise. It will bring you to dungeons you would otherwise ignore. Good stuff.

7. Raiding – I complained a lot about the itemization of the endgame in TBC in my first post, and I still stick by that, it doesn’t make sense how you can get better gear to clear stuff that gives you worse gear (aka get badge stuff to finish SSC only to have the SSC drops be downgrades). But, if you take the itemization out of it, the raids themselves are pretty wonderful. Karazhan in particular is probably the most creative raid instance in any MMO ever. Everyone has run it to absolute death at this point in the game’s life cycle… but when you really examine everything in there from the Moroes fight to the Opera to the Curator to the Chess Event to the random chaos of the final battle… it’s just really, really awesome. The 25 mans are of different quality, but none of them are terrible. SSC is probably the worst, but some of the boss battles are great (Vashj particularly, Leo and Lurker are pretty rad also). TK is pretty good, though short… but Kael’Thas may be the coolest fight in the game. I loved Mt Hyjal from start to finish, especially as a warlock (AOEEEEEE!). Black Temple is well designed and creepy with some interesting fights, but I’ve only seen about halfway through it. I’ve yet to step foot into Sunfire but it seems like the difficulty is pretty damn epic.

8. World PvP (lol really?) – Yeah, it still sucks, but it’s better. It was a good first step putting PvP objectives in each zone. It was a better step attaching daily quests to most of them. All of this doesn’t create the epic world PvP that most of us are looking for, but it does create some interesting skirmishes from time to time. Hopefully WoLK will take this concept even further, especially in Lake Wintersgrasp.

9. The world itself – I am the first to admit that I am kinda sick of the sci-fi-ness of The Outlands, and am looking forward to the more typical fantasy setting of WoLK… but, at the same time, after 58 levels in the old world it really is refreshing to go to The Outlands and basically interact with this alien world. It is very pretty, the graphic style is amazing. I’m ready for more castles and mountains with snow and all of that stuff, but TBC is a pretty decent change of pace.

10. The changes – The biggest and smartest change was speeding up leveling from levels 20-60. The recent change of getting mounts at 30 instead of 40 is another great change. I also like that they drop the keying process for raid instances after a suitable amount of time… this makes it much easier to get alts in, or change mains, or apply for raiding guilds a little bit out of your paygrade. People bitch about every little change that Bliz puts in the game, but overall I think most of them have improved the overall experience.

The Top 10 downloadable games for PS3 and Xbox 360.

About a week back I made a list of the Top 9 games so far of 08′, but I purposefully left off any of the myriad of download only games available on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Why did I do that? Well, so I could make this list. The rules of the list I gave myself was to try to stay away from remakes (though a few made it on there) as those are subjective to whether you have nostalgia for them in the first place (and I’d like to think my choices that did make it will hold up whether you have nostalgia or not). Also, the games have to only be available in download form, so that leaves out all the Xbox Originals (Xbox 1 games available for download on XBL) and PSN games like GT5P and Warhawk because they are also out in stores on discs. It’s also worth noting that I just got Bionic Commando: Rearmed today, and the hour I put into it was absolutely awesome… it’s definitely a game that will end up near the top of this list, but having only played a bit I chose to leave it off. This list is not limited to 08′ releases like the previous list was.

1. Pixel Junk Monsters (PS3) – This game is purely a joy to play. It takes its basic concept from the many Tower Defense games you can find all around the instanets. But it adds a few subtle wrinkles, like an actual controllable character which you use to “dance” in front of your towers to help upgrade them, and collect all the coins and whatnot that the enemies who get mowed down by your towers drop.

It’s almost impossible to explain how this game works or is fun without sounding like a loon (unless you are a Tower Defense junky and then all you need to see is those aforementioned words). Luckily there is a demo available, I recommend you go get it. Now!

2. Puzzle Quest (Xbox Live) – Puzzle Quest started off on both the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, but quickly made its way over to the Xbox Live Arcade. The basic premise of the game is “RPG puzzle game.” Confused? Yeah, I was too when everyone told me what it was and that it was great. But basically the story plays out like a typical RPG where you move about the land, get party members, etc… but when you go into combat instead of turn based combat like the typical RPG, you play a knockoff of Bejeweled where you knock out certain color gems to use attacks on your opponent. It is highly addictive and downright fun. A must buy for either your handheld systems or on the XBL.

3. Braid (Xbox Live) – Braid is one of those games, like Portal from The Orange Box, that can completely change the way you think about videogames. Braid is a platformer at its core, but as you play it becomes so much more. You can manipulate time, and you will have to do so often, to advance past some pretty mind bending puzzles. It’s the type of game that you know is smarter than you, but you will keep plugging away at it over and over trying to figure out how it is humanly possible to get past certain puzzles. This game certainly isn’t for the easily frustrated, but with some patience it is an absolute masterpiece.

4. Bomberman Live (Xbox Live) – Bomberman has been around since the days of the NES. It’s simple in design, you control one of up to 8 little guys that drop bombs that blow up bricks and other guys. The objective is, of course, to kill everyone else and not die yourself. This all plays out on a board that is only the size of your screen, so there is never any action out of your field of view. Add powerups like more powerful bombs and speed boosts and you have yourself a very twitchy yet strategy filled action games. There are also numerous modes if you get bored, like bombs that paint the ground and the objective is to cover the most real estate before the time runs out. The thing that sets Bomberman apart, and keeps it fresh, all these years later is the mostly flawless online play. But be warned, the guys that play on there are GOOD. As a newb you will get your ass handed to you, often.

5. Pac Man: Championship Edition (Xbox Live) – Pac Man CE is how you update a 20+ year old game. It still uses the same principles as the original… eat dots, eat power pellets, eat ghosts, eat fruit. But then it adds a whole new wrinkle in levels that morph as you clear them out. So there are no stages, per se, once you clear out half of the board and then eat the fruit that pops up on the other half, your previously cleared out half will morph into a different pattern and be repopulated with dots and power pellets. The game is played in timed modes, the point being to get as high of a score as possible. The updated in real time online scoreboards make this very, very addictive.

6. Commanders: Attack of the Genos (Xbox Live) – This game will appeal only to niche genre enthusiasts, but if you are a fan of turn based combat strategy games like Advance Wars (on the Gameboy and now the Nintendo DS) this game will be right up your alley. It features both an offline story (that sucks, but the gameplay is great) and online competitive play. Most of the missions offline (and all online) have you taking a small army around a map and capturing points so you can make more units and overwhelm your competitors that are trying to do the same. The game doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, but it is great fun if you like these types of games.

7. Worms (Xbox Live) – I first played Worms on the PSone. Back then, I was in college, living at home with this totally sweet couch in my parents basement. A bunch of friends would come over each night and we would drink copious amounts of beer, swim in my parents pool, hang out on their deck (which I helped build years earlier! RAWR!) and spend hours and hours and hours playing videogames. Worms was great because it is a turn based game that is really easy to pick up and play. Basically, you have a team of four worms who have various tools to kill the other worms on the map. There is a fair bit of humor, from weapons like exploding sheep to the funny accented voices the worms themselves have. All these years later, in my 30s, still living in my parents basement, this release on XBL is just as fun, but instead of friends coming over you can now just play it online. Good stuff.

8. Super Stardust HD (PS3) – Remember when I said I was in my 30s and I lived in my parents basement? Well, i was kidding about the latter part (I live in my girlfriend’s basement, figuratively). But, those who live up to that stereotype have become huge fans of the rebirth of the shooter in games like Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD. The gameplay is simple, you control a ship that you move with one stick and you shoot in all directions with the other stick. There is a bit of strategy in that you have different weapons which are more effective against certain enemies or objects… but its mostly just visceral action fun. So why did I pick Super Stardust HD over Geometry Wars? Honestly, it’s because I am better at Super Stardust HD, which makes it more fun for me. The learning curve is a bit easier, and these old decrepit hands appreciate that. The addition recently of the new PSN Trophy system makes this game even more fun.

9. Calling All Cars (PSN) – Created by David Jaffe, who has Twisted Metal, Warhawk and God of War on his resume, this game isn’t quite what people expected out of him for his first next gen project. The graphics are very cartoony, something he now laments (I read an interview with him where he says that buyers were looking for something that pushed the PS3 hardware and he feels silly going with a simple hand drawn look). But even if sales were crap, and it’s about impossible to find people to play with online other than primetime…. the gameplay is gold. The premise is that you are driving a police car around somewhat small maps and you pickup criminals and bring them back to the police station. The problem is, that’s what everyone else is trying to do also, and if they smash into you or hit you with any of the powerups on the board you will lose the criminal and they will get them. It’s fast action that is tons of fun. It’s just a matter of whether you can find anyone to play with anymore. You can play offline, but it loses much of its appeal without other humans.

10. Castlevania: Symphony of the night (PS3, Xbox Live) – You can move this game to number one if you have never played it. I have, and while I really enjoyed playing through it again it isn’t as cutting edge as some of the other games on the list or highly competitive and online like the rest. But, what you have here is probably the best Castlevania game ever made (I’d put Castlevania 2 ahead of it, but I’m weird). The game has fairly deep RPG elements, and some difficult puzzles and the great action you can always expect from a Castlevania game.

So there you have it, the downloadable world of console games according to Mort. Did I miss some of your favorites? Am I completely stupid and you want to kick me in the face? Leave some comments below.

Madden: Early Impressions

The day that Madden was released each year used to be much more of a holiday to me than it is now. I’m not sure if my interest in football games has waned in the face of other genres or if the series has just been going down the pooper since its jumped to this generation of consoles and its hard to get excited for a game that has disappointed you for years now. Yeah, it’s probably the latter.

Years back I used to go to the midnight launches for Madden. I would stand in line for an hour just so I could play it as soon as humanly possible. But back then Madden wasn’t the only game on the market, they had stiff competition from the NFL 2k series. They both pushed each other and made each other be better games. But then the NFL decided it wanted exclusivity (aka more money) and EA came in and snatched up the rights to the NFL license. A lot of people blame EA for this, and I really don’t like EA much as a company, but the NFL is who is to blame. They put it up to the highest bidder and that bidder was EA. EA never put a gun to their head and said “Give us the license, man!”

So while it was a major coup for Electronic Arts and the NFL (hooray money!) it was the gamers who lost. Even if you were always just a pure blooded Madden fanboy, and never, ever, ever would play NFL 2k… even you would have to admit that Madden was a better game when it faced competition. I would hope so at least.

So why am I giving this backstory that most hardcore football fans already know? Well, mostly because the game still isn’t any good. Ok, that’s a little strong. The game is good, the gameplay is solid, the graphics are much improved…. but there are still so many glaring problems with the game that it is disappointing. The AI does some really stupid stuff…. like on one catch the AI WR ran out of bounds, for no reason, with no defender within 10 yards of him. At one point near the end of the first half the AI completed a pass over the middle and called a hurry up offense (good!) but then it got to the line and let the play clock tick to 3 before snapping it (WTF?).

And then there are the super linebackers who will make the most amazingly fast and high jumps to catch these impossible interceptions… and the corner backs who will have it thrown at their chest only to drop it (this, if it happened a little, would be fine… but I’ve seen it probably 7-10 times in my 5 hours with the game). Also, the running game seems to be limited, or at the very least extremely special move related. I’ve played 4 games so far, 2 online and 2 off, and I have yet to see a run go more than 10 yards. I’m not saying it’s impossible, and I’m all for having a learning curve… but lets just say at this point its raising a red flag for me. A week from now when I get used to it maybe it won’t be such a big deal. Because, as I alluded to earlier, special moves (jukes, spins, etc) do seem very powerful, and will get you out of almost certain tackles. The problem is that everyone else just closes in on you way too fast. And lastly… if you hit the sprint button it actually just seems to make you a magnet for getting tackled. The second you hit the button it feels like everyone breaks their blocks and just swarms you.

There are bells and whistles added on to this years game, but personally I don’t give two craps about them. The Madden IQ, which updates in real time to give some sort of number to your skill level is somewhat novel, but I can’t say that I really care all that much about it. And this whole “the game adapts to you” gimmick is just crap. The game puts you through a virtual reality-ish test where you do all these drills and the computer adjusts the skill level of each phase of the game depending on how you do. So if you suck at run defense the game will kick up the AI of your teammates (and/or dumb down the runner) so you don’t have such a hard time with it. The problem is, this won’t make you better. All it does is make for an easier game with the AI helping decide the outcome more than ever.

It’s not all bad though. The gameplay is fun. Even the running game is satisfying, I can run pretty well, it’s just the lack of big plays that is a bit disappointing. The passing game is much more fine tuned, and plays great. I’ve had some issues with the new camera making it more difficult to get manual catches down the field… but I could easily go and change that option. The graphics are a huge upgrade from last year. Especially the grass! Madden has some seriously sweet grass.

I am sure I will have some fun with the game. It is Madden, after all, which means it is professional football… with a controller. It’s kinda hard to make that completely unfun. I haven’t checked out the online leagues yet but word across the internet is that they are fairly broken currently… but if they can right that ship that could become very fun and addictive.

So, yeah, overall im not going crazy over this iteration of Madden. It is better, but it still isn’t great. Not yet, at least. I have played enough sports games to know that you don’t truly get the feel or these types of games for a week or two, atleast. So all of these judgements could be taken with a grain of salt. But, still, I think some of the criticisms are valid and it pains me to think about why they spent so much time on something as stupid as the Madden IQ thing and not just use that time polishing up the gameplay. Because the rest of the game is just gravy, it’s what happens inside the lines that matters the most. Or at least it should.

Oh and the presentation…. why is it so bad? Why did EA buy the ESPN license if it’s not gonna use it to make the game look more like their broadcasts? The 2K series did an amazing job with this 4 years ago when it had the license. Why, all these years later hasn’t EA used it at all? I don’t get it.

Coming this week….

Well folks, August has been as dead as I think we all assumed, and there hasn’t been much on the news front to report.   But, tomorrow Madden drops, and I’ll be picking it up bright and early in the morning.   So my plan is sometime later tomorrow to write up some of my thoughts on the game.  Madden is a strange beast, it rarely ever changes, and when it does it’s usually for the worse.  But the very short demo (and subsequent developer interviews) point to the game being much improved, so I will be digging into that tomorrow.   Also, a few of my friends picked it up early and the word from them is that it is a great game, but there seems to be some debate on the difficulty of running the ball.

Also, later in the week I plan on making a top 10 list of the best downloadable games from the PSN and XBL.  I have a few other ideas brewing also…  I just recently hit 70, again, in World of Warcraft and I think I need to make a companion piece to my last wow blog but this one will talk about everything The Burning Crusade does right.

So sorry for the short update, but check back tomorrow if you give half a crap about Madden (and if you don’t, I can’t really blame ya).