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.

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).

And then there comes that day… A love story by Famous “nerdgasm” Mortimer

I had reached a point where I just completely had it with girls. “Girls are dumb and mean!” I would yell at complete strangers. “They just want to control me!” I would post on random internet message boards. “Sorry, I can’t play Madden tonight, the girlfriend won’t let me” I would tell my internet nerd pals as I sunk into the knowledge that I would be spending the rest of the night watching Real World Vs Road Rules or some other bullshit house makeover show. Because that’s quality time, you know, watching horrible television, not talking to each other, being miserable.

So, just a little shy of four years ago I made an executive decision. No more girls. I got a studio apartment, always had large amounts of alcohol, a decent PC gaming rig, an xbox, ps2 and gamecube (which later turned into the next gen machines, of course) and constant supply of hotpockets, mac and cheese and frozen lasagna. Life was good. At that point I was still going out to bars, and try as they might I wanted nothing to do with the girls there. I mainly spent my time talking to friends about videogames, politics, watching the Boston Red Sox, breaking my hand punching a wall because I was drunk the Red Sox won a game they had no right winning. Why would someone punch a wall after a Red Sox win? I don’t know, but I didn’t have a woman telling me I was an idiot. Life was good.

Then World of Warcraft came out and it completely devoured my soul. I knew I was going to like it, and play it for a while, but if someone told me that I was going to put over 400 days played into it over the next few years I would have told them they were on crack. I have videogame ADD, you see. I’m lucky to play a game 10 hours before getting bored. Ive always been able to explain it off as “well, if the game was better I would play it more.” Which I guess is true, because World of Warcraft was better, and I played it more. I also had an unyielding addiction to Socom 1 and 2. And NCAA Football 04.

World of Warcraft completely killed my social life. I’m not complaining about that fact though. My social life was one of a barfly, someone who started the night as the life of the party but ended the night as the punch line to a pretty sad joke. In the words of one Conor Oberst “I don’t recomend it but it’s certainly one way to live.”

So I was couped up, for years, playing World of Warcraft. I was still the angsty, drunk idiot, but at least I was safe. I was the guy who would pass out in the middle of an instance run. I was the guy that would walk backwards into the imps during the lucifron fight. I was the guy that would start huge arguments late at night under the sway of Shaefer and Jameson only to wake up the next morning completely embarrassed. I was also the guy that internet girls latched onto, for reasons I’ll never understand. Hell, one chick from Canada sent me naked pictures. She wanted us to meet up in a Buffalo. I said “hell no.” I didn’t need girls! I had Night Elf Rogues and Undead Mages to play. I had Hunters, Druids, Warriors and Warlocks to level. I had PVP honor to grind.

Something had to give, of course, and I finally reached a point where drinking as much as I was just wasn’t a good idea anymore. So I stopped. But I didn’t stop playing WoW. In fact my devotion to it only grew stronger. I was never content though. I guild hopped, I character hopped… I never stayed in the same place for very long. I would always come back to the guild I helped create, but then eventually run off and do something else again. I was in search of some sort of elusive fun that must be somewhere else in the game. And it was, but only for short periods of time, and then it was time for something new.

On this past New Years Eve I was convinced by some friends to go out to a party. It was going to be my first new years in two years that I didn’t celebrate online is Azeroth. I reluctantly agreed and went, and everything started off pretty good. I had decided to drink as the rules of my quiting drinking was that I would drink on special occasions (like I had for birthdays, my sisters wedding, etc) previous to this. So I was drinking and chatting with people, the alcohol taking off the edge that made these people so scary in the first place. But then the night wore on and I got too drunk. And so did my friend Mike, who is an incredibly gifted and brilliant guy, but also plagued with a mind that seems to overwhelm him at times. That was something we shared, but for me it made me turn inward, for him it made him turn outward. And we ended up having this long conversation about me. Me! About how I had put on so much weight, about how even with me having had quit drinking I was still very unhealthy (the irony being that we were completely trashed, and still drinking). The conversation then devolved further into him wondering about other aspects of my life he really had no right to be talking about. But who cares about rights when plastered? I don’t blame him for it.

And then, at some point, I fell down or tripped or something. My memory of it is really, really hazy. But I cracked the bottom of my jaw on a chair. The pain, when I woke up the next morning, was completely unbearable. But I soldiered on, mostly out of an irrational fear of doctors and partly out of laziness. The pain would go away, eventually. It wasn’t though, so after about a week I went to the doctor. She was more concerned with my state of mind, how I could be in such pain for so long without doing anything about it. I’m crazy, I know that, my friends knew it, faithful readers of this blog probably know it… and she figured it out rather quickly. So she set up an appointment for me with a psychologist.

Having such intense pain in my face I barely ate anything, and I was losing weight at fairly rapid pace. So i decided to parlay that into a diet once the Face Pain ’08 subsided. It was a good step. I was feeling good about myself. And I was leveling an Orc Warlock. And he kicked serious ass! That combined with some therapy put me in a weird place I hadn’t been for a very, very long time.

I used to read craigslist religiously, something I’m happy I don’t do anymore, but I always read the personals and just cracked up at how these people were presenting themselves. Some had no shame at all, guys who would say “I will take you out for a very expensive dinner with the promise of the night ending in a good time.” Others were more subtly sad, girls and guys clearly faking that they were happy, attractive people. On a whim one night I decided to write one, the craigslist personal to end them all! It was diatribe about how I am a mediocre person at best, how I play tons and tons of World of Warcraft, how I am overweight, how I am anxiety ridden 99% of the time. It was beautiful. Who would respond to that!?!?

Well, it turns out, a lot of people. Some, mostly single mothers, looking for something sexual from someone who seemed sensitive. Those I completely discarded. I wasn’t looking for sex! Hell, I hadn’t had sex in three years, I didn’t even know if I knew how to do it anymore! There were others, ranging from completely boring to averagely meh. And then there was this one girl, who was really, really fucking funny. And smart. We started talking over email, then Aim. I was content with this. I had made contact with this alien species. It was a good start, yes, I was happy. But she wanted to hang out. Hang out!??! OH NOES! Oh, and she had a secret, a dark secret (this joke will make sense in a minute!). She said “There is something you need to know about me.” My mind raced… she has herpes? She has a penis? She is married? Nope, she sent me a picture and she was black. I had never dated a black girl before, but obviously being the guilty white liberal that I am I was completely open to it, psyched about it even. And thank god it wasn’t herpes or a penis!

So we started hanging out quite a bit. Tons, actually. I started missing raids of Mt Hyjal and the Black Temple. I didn’t even care, I was smitten with this girl. She is disarmingly pretty. It’s hard to even describe, but I see it happen on regular basis. Men walk by her (mostly either white guys our age, or really old black men) and they just stare at her. She is aloof to the whole thing, typical girl craziness, if she even acknowledges it it’s because they think she is fat or want to punch her in the face or something. But she is absolutely gorgeous, and so very, very funny. These are the qualities I would attribute to the perfect girl, but as most humans know the perfect girl doesn’t really exist (nor guy, of course), and even if they do you will figure out that it wasn’t really what you wanted in the first place.

Things progressed very, very quickly between us. Within 3 or 4 months I had moved into her apartment with her. I had quit playing WoW! I hadn’t weened myself off of videogames completely, of course, no girl has that power. But hanging out with her was more fun than plundering dungeons for virtual loot. WHO KNEW!?!? As I got to know her something started to become abundantly clear: This girl is a huge nerd. It took a while for me to figure out, mostly because these types of girls are myths or crazy Canadian chicks that send naked pictures and are obnoxious. It was like spotting a unicorn or a bear mauling Sean Hannity. As it unraveled it was so very, very awesome. The first sign was seeing that she had a dual monitor setup for her computer. But ok, everyone likes computers. Then sometime in the first few weeks of dating we played Bust A Move on her Nintendo 64 and she completely destroyed me. WTF!?!? And then she noticed I had a gamecube unused in my closet and asked to borrow it, and she became completely addicted to Animal Crossing. Wow.

But yeah, I already mentioned that I moved in with her rather quickly, it was a matter of convenience and infatuation. We both were really smitten with each other, she had this huge, completely awesome apartment and my lease was up. It was probably too soon to do it, but it made sense on many levels. So it was done and that was that.

Things were good, but issues started to arise that triggered all of my previous fears about women. First off, she insisted my computer and videogame system be wireless because wires running everywhere is ugly. WIRELESS!?!? WHAT ABOUT MY PING!?!?! Turns out that was fine. Who knew? But, also, computers were to go in the study and consoles and my totally sweet HDTV were to go in the living room. This was a harder pill to swallow. I am an ADD multitasker. In 2007 I watched every single Red Sox regular season and post season game, usually while playing WoW. Those days were over. And to make matters worse, my totally awesome HDTV is actually kinda small, perfect for my studio apartment but sitting on the couch in my new large living room made the screen too small to accurately kill terrorists in Call of Duty 4. So I had to sit on the floor.

I bitched and moaned about these things, of course, mostly because that’s the type of person I am, and partly because I had gotten myself into something that I knew I despised. I am not a control freak, I am actually quite the opposite, I usually am amiable to most decisions made about the house and whatnot… except when it comes to my videogames. She was trying to stifle me!

But time went on, and my arguments and anger over these things began to fade. I was definitely playing less console games as a result of them being away from my computer, but when one grabbed my fancy, like Battlefield: Bad Company or NCAA Football 09 I would plop myself down on the floor without much of a complaint. Meanwhile, she installed a copy of the first Sims game, something she had said she was very addicted to in the past. It was cool. She was playing videogames! So during one Walmart trip I suggested we buy The Sims 2 together knowing full and well that I wasn’t gonna play it, but I knew she would. And play it she did, as evidenced by this post I made a while back. The pieces were starting to fall into place.

So I did what any self respecting anxiety ridden nerd would do. I completely freaked out. Down was up, cats and dogs mating, it was total bedlam. And during this phase, which for the past few years had been reserved only for my WoW guilds, I almost lost her. But something inside me clicked, surprisingly, for the better. I realized I was being completely irrational. I had started playing WoW again, and she was cool with it, but in my mind she wasn’t. I was running an Online Dynasty in NCAA 09 and sometimes had to schedule games when we were supposed to hang out and I knew she was super pissed! But she wasn’t. And once I realized she wasn’t, that these were just ghosts of lesser caliber girls haunting my thick skull, I knew I had to save our relationship. Sitting on the floor be damned!

So, for the first time in my life, I’ve begun putting a lot of effort into the relationship and into myself to get to the bottom of why my thoughts turn negative and paranoid so quickly. The details of this I won’t bore you with, but it’s worked… and goddamn I am like 9000% happier. And we are co-existing on a level that both of us are happy with. Not just content, but actual happiness. There is still more work to do, there always is, but we are in a truly good space.

And then there comes that day, a day when you realize that you have made a series of good decisions and that it is paying off in ways that would have never imagined. This day, for me, was yesterday. The ladyfriend is on a big redecorating kick right now and wanted to go to Ikea. She knows that I don’t like shopping, and was actually sensitive to that and was willing to go when I felt comfortable. Just her doing that made me want to do it right away. Small gestures go a long way, apparently. So we went to Ikea and as we were walking around I was quietly scanning the area for a chair I could put in the living room that wouldn’t upset the balance of her (well ours, but it’s all her work) perfectly decorated living room. I didn’t mention it out loud though, I’m not sure why. I was just quietly scanning.

But then I sat on this weird stool and she gave me a rather puzzled look so i explained that I was hoping to get some sort of chair for the living room so I didn’t have to sit on the floor anymore. To my shock and amazement, she loved this idea, and suggest we circle back around and go through the whole showroom area again. So we did, and all of the chairs we both really liked were out of my price range. There was one chair that I liked that was cheap enough but she wasn’t a huge fan of it. And instead of getting mad about that and devolving the whole situation in my head to thinking she hates me and everything I like or want…. I accepted it. Lets go to Target, I said, she still needed more stuff and they brought me the opportunity to look at more chairs.

This is where the amazing happened. We are in the section with chairs and we stumble upon these two Videogame chairs. If you haven’t seen them they are basically fully cushioned chairs that sit on the ground (aka they have no legs) and have a subwoofer built into the back and speakers built into the side. You hook your audio up to them and when you crash into a wall playing Gran Turismo the bass shakes the whole damn chair. I was in love. It was perfect. I mean, it was ugly as all hell, but it was perfect! But I knew there was no way that she was going to allow that thing in her living room. And then it happened. So far out of left field it cracked me in the skull and knocked my increasingly less fat ass to the ground. “It’s ugly, but it’s really cool. I think you should get it.” I didn’t know what to say! I was overwhelmed with awesomeness. I couldn’t even make sense of it all. I just shrugged and said “well lets keep looking, I’ll think about it.” THINK ABOUT IT!!?!? GO GRAB THAT FUCKER RIGHT NOW BEFORE SHE COMES TO HER SENSES!

We meandered about the store some more, she was looking at shower curtains, I decided to wander over to electronics to see if some not so bright employee happened to put Madden 09 out early. No dice. I didn’t really care. All I could think about was that chair. And why the hell was this girl in favor of it? How did I luck out so hard to have a girl that is jaw droppingly gorgeous, smart, funny, a complete and total nerd and willing to have an ugly ass gaming chair in our otherwise meticulous living room. How did this happen?

So I found her again and started wondering out loud about the chairs. One was smaller and cost $60, the other was bigger and seemed of higher quality for $100. Which one should I get? “Get the $100 one. It’s better.” Really!??! WHAT!?!? “Take the cart and go over there and decide, I’m not coming with you though because I know you are gonna ponder it and I already told you what I think.” We both cracked a smile over her mater of factness. Did I mention she is very matter of fact? Because she is. It’s a really wonderful trait.

So I went back over there with the cart, I looked at both. I didn’t even know what to do with myself. I was like squeezing the fabric and stuff like I was going to learn anything about it by doing so. But in the end, I took her advice. The $100 dollar one was clearly better, even though it had this ugly and stupid X embroidered into the headrest. But she saw the X and was ok with it being in the living room. Craziness.

After waiting for what felt like hours for her to finish up going through the clothes we checked out and I actually owned the Original X Rocker gaming chair. And when we got home I couldn’t wait to unpack it and put it together and get it all plugged in. But i was racing the clock, I had an NCAA dynasty game scheduled for 10:45. I got it all put together and hooked up, but I couldn’t find an extension cord anywhere in the house, so i had to go without the sound for my first game on the thing. And man, what a terrible game it was. My long time internet nerd friend, a black gentleman (and republican? WTF?) by the name of Glenn33 completely trounced me in our game. My quarterback turned the ball over on every single possession of the game (5 ints, 1 fumble). I didn’t care. My chair was awesome!!!!

Near the end of the game the most wonderful woman in the world came in with an extension cord she found. How sweet! So after my humbling but not good mood stealing defeat I hooked up the sound. It was awesome! The whole thing vibrates when the base gets kicking. The sound quality is actually much higher than what I expected. She decided to try it out also and really seemed to enjoy it, talking about how she was looking forward to using it to watch some sort of action or horror movie. I’ve never been so in love. With a chair.

Or a girl.

The Top 9 Games of 08, thus far…

I like lists. Lists are fun, they are usually a good read also, though one hardly ever agrees with them. But maybe that is the fun in them, that as a reader you are constantly going “well I would put this here, and that there, and this dude is a freakin’ idiot.”

So, first, I must throw out some caveats to my list here. Number one is that I haven’t played every game released this year, I don’t get stuff sent to me for free, so I buy what my budget allows. This means that games that I would have probably enjoyed like Grid and Ninja Gaiden 2 were skipped over because of random things like my muffler falling of for no reason. Money is stupid. Also, I don’t own a Wii. I used to, but after 6 months of not using it I sold it to a friend. So there are no Wii games on this list, but check out this lens for tons of info on the top Wii games. Lastly, the Blu Ray drive on my PS3 decided to break and make me cry about 2 weeks before Metal Gear Solid 4 came out. So, the game that probably would be number one, is nowhere on my list. Hopefully I’ll get to play it sometime in the coming months (I need to buy a new PC before fixing the ps3…. ugh!). And finally, I decided to go with just games that came out in boxes, in stores. One of the games was downloadable (GT5:P), but it also came out in stores, so it qualifies for this list. Sometime soon I plan on doing a top ___ list of the best downloadable games out so far this year.

So here is the world according to Mort. Also, I’m sure I forgot stuff, so feel free to tell me or even post your own lists in the comments section!

1. MLB 08: The Show (PS3)

Pros: Probably the best looking and playing baseball simulation ever created. The animation systems are so fluid and varied that even after 162 games you will be seeing new stuff. Every aspect of the game is tight from the controls to the cameras to the wonderful AI to the locked in at 60fps heavenly smoothness.

Cons: The online play is terribad. The game contains the same glitch from last year where certain routers will just plain ol lock the game up. And even if you do have a router the game can agree with the online play is choppy at best and completely unplayable at worst.

Verdict: On my shortlist of best *offline* sports games ever. But I’m a huge fan of online play, so its terrible showing there is a disappointment. But those feelings of sadness and loss fade once you fire up the single player game. If you have a PS3 and any interest in baseball I highly recommend it.

2. Battlefield: Bad Company (Xbox 360, PS3)

Pros: The game is flat out fun. From blowing up buildings to chopping down trees to sniping someone halfway across the map to the holy crap the writing is actually funny…. it’s just fun. I played through the single player game twice, something I rarely do. And the online play is very solid, with the Gold Rush mode adding a new wrinkle to the attack and defend game archetype.

Cons: Some of the servers are laggy, but it’s easy enough to change servers. There are also numerous complaints about how you can only use voice chat with your squad (4 guys) and not your whole team. It’s also a head scratcher as to why this game shipped without Conquest Mode, the staple of the Battlefield series, but that will be released as a free download on August 7th.

Verdict: There are actually quite a few people that absolutely hate this game. I, obviously, am not one of them. The game does have issues, the single player isn’t the deepest, the multiplayer needs more modes and maps (which are coming…). I understand all of that, but when I put this game in my 360 and play I have a really, really, really good time. And that’s what I want out of a game over anything else.

3. NCAA Football 2009 (PS3, Xbox 360)

Pros: After a couple years of fairly weak offerings, EA has finally come out with a next gen football game that is worth the $60 price of admission. The star of the show is the online dynasties in which you and 11 other friends can take control of teams and compete for the BCS championship. I am currently running a dynasty over at TheFanboys.com and I think I speak for most of us involved when I say it is an absolute blast. It is further helped by a huge upgrade to their netcode, which was dodgey at best last year, but the game plays butter smooth this year. Offline, the game is solid, but nothing new or groundbreaking to report.

Cons: I guess the cons are found in the offline game, and also with some fairly serious glitches. Offline, the Dynasty mode is solid but not revolutionary or even very evolutionary in any way. And the mode whose name I can’t think of right now where you create a player and then play all your games as only him is a shadow of its former self. How this mode was more fleshed out and deeper last gen than it is this gen… I have no idea. On the glitch front, there was serious glitches with custom rosters, but a patch released this morning was supposed to fix that. Also, on the gameplay side of things you will see some suction catches from time to time, as well as uncalled clips. And lastly, the kick and punt coverage is absolutely horrible, but this is something EA said will be addressed in its next patch, due out sometime in August.

Verdict: Almost the opposite of MLB 08, this game is extremely entertaining online and fairly mediocre offline. That’s not to say offline is a complete waste, the dynasty mode offline is as strong as ever, but it really hasn’t moved forward in any meaningful ways in a few years now.

4. Gran Turismo 5: Prologue (PS3)

Pros: GT5P is everything fans of the Gran Turismo franchise hoped it would be. The graphics are amazing, the physics are much improved, the online play while fairly limited plays smoothly. This game was meant as just a taste of what is to come when the full version of Gran Turismo 5 is released and on that front it is a complete success. Some people call it a glorified demo, but that is short changing it quite a bit. There are more tracks and cars in the game than some fully released racing games have come out with.

Cons: The price tag of $40 is about $10 too much, in my humble opinion. While I feel the game is more than a glorified demo, it is still less than half the game GT5 will be. So why are we paying for more than half the price? Also, while the online racing is fairly smooth, you cannot create custom races, which kills any community aspect of the game online. Hopefully this will be remedied in the final product.

Verdict: While slightly pricey for what it actually contains, it is still incredibly fun and incredibly deep and will give you hours and hours of enjoyment. Let’s just hope that us GT5P owners get a price break on the final game. Yeah, right.

5. Grand Theft Auto 4 (Xbox 360, PS3)

Pros: The city itself is the star of the show here. Liberty City is an amazing recreation of New York City and is filled so many small details and such great life in the AI of the citizens. While the graphics aren’t mind boggling, they are solid for a game that needs to render so much. The controls also received an overhaul and are much tighter than previous games in the series, but still aren’t as good as other shooters on the market. Online play was also added, and many people raved about it, but personally other than some laughs I had while blowing up friends in the lobby, I found the online play to be too unfocused and rather boring.

Cons: Well, I already covered the problems with the online play… so moving on from there, my major complaint about GTA4 is that I just didn’t get into the story. I thought the main character was mediocre and rather uninteresting, and his idiot cousin was annoying and made me want to punch myself in the face whenever he talked. The game also just didn’t do much new on the gameplay front. The true fun in the game is still just driving around the city and causing mayhem.

Verdict: I was hoping for a more engaging story and better and more varied missions, and I didn’t get them. What is delivered is a completely amazing city with a completely mediocre GTA game happening inside it. But, for many people a completely mediocre GTA game is still pretty damn good.

6. Age of Conan (PC)

Pros: With an intuitive and fun combat system (for melee classes) AoC shot right into #2 slot in the MMO subscriber rankings this May and June. And the combat is great fun, there is no doubt about it. But as the game goes on you make your way towards the cons….

Cons: The game is clearly not finished. Clearly! Levels 1-20 are amazing and in its own way a game within itself, with an engaging story line and great quests and gameplay. But then you reach 20 and leave the island of Tortage and you begin your slow decent into crapsville. Levels 20-40 have a decent amount of content and some interesting places to visit, but it doesn’t have the polish that levels 1-20 did. Once you reach level 40 the train completely skids off the tracks as the game devolves to you grinding the same mobs over and over for days on end to level up to an endgame completely lacking in content. Like I said before, the game is clearly not finished.
Verdict: In 6 months to a year from now I think AoC could end up being a great MMO. But as of right now it isn’t. Though, I will say that the game is worth the price of admission just for playing levels 1-20. I got more than my $50s worth out of doing that alone. And if the game ended there I may have been happier.

7. Rainbow 6 Vegas: 2 (Xbox 360, PS3)

Pros: While not groundbreaking or revolutionary in any way, R6V2 is a very solid tactical shooter that has a lot of appeal for fans of the genre. Particularly fun are the online and offline co-op modes. I played through the single player story with a friend in splitscreen and we had an absolute blast. I also spent many nights with fellow nerds doing Terrorist hunt and the like online.

Cons: The adversarial modes online are very hit or miss, and I actually feel like there is too much and it lacks focus. The games with respawns are filled with spawn campers who kill any inkling of fun you might be having. The games with respawns turned off are better, and could be a good time, but it is dependent on finding a host who likes similar settings to you.

Verdict: R6V2 is exactly what everyone expected it to be…. more Rainbow 6. It doesn’t break new ground, but neither does it fail to be exciting. A solid shooter for those who like a more tactical killing spree.

8. Burnout: Paradise (Xbox 360, PS3)

Pros: The gameplay in Burnout: Paradise is as good and fun as ever. The over the top speed and arcade action with massive pileups and destruction lead to a really fun, visceral ride. The online play is also seamlessly built into the single player game making it easy to hop in and out of races.

Cons: Burnout decided to go with the open city approach for the first time, instead of premade tracks. Some people liked the move, I did not. I didn’t hate it, but I felt like I spent an awful lot of time wandering around, which is fine for a game like World of Warcraft, but not so much for an arcade racer. But, when you finally do find a race that you are qualified to be in, the action is good.

Verdict: The open world makes the game lose the focus of what makes Burnout so special… the ability to just pick up and play it quickly. But, once you get used to the setup it remains a fun game, but personally I feel like it is a step back for the series.

9. Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds (PS3)

Pros: HSG has always been about fun golf with solid physics and zany characters. And I say zany because I don’t like the word zany, and neither do I like anything described as zany. It’s not that I’m against them making weird characters, they are a staple of the series, but many of them are just plain corny and not creative in the slightest. But despite that, other than an occasional hiccup, the rest of the game is wonderful. It plays and looks great and has some great courses and the online play adds a layer of depth the series desperately needed.

Cons: Zany characters. I mean seriously, you guys have the ability and creative freedom to create some truly unique golfers but instead stick to tired giant headed stereotypes with annoying voice work. Also, the lack of voice chat online is a downer.

Verdict: Despite the few problems the HSG series has always been fun to play and this game is no exception. The 50 player online tournaments is probably where the most fun lies. But the single player with all of the unlockable content is also quite addicting.

The dead of summer

So it’s August 1, 2008… and I’m sitting here thinking to myself “self, you should write a blog post.” So my incredibly gifted mind was like “dude, you should preview the big games coming out in August.” I know, I’m groundbreaking with my thinking. Where else can you find ideas so OUT THERE!?!??

I headed over to the EB games site and went to the coming soon section to see what’s still on track for an August release. To my surprise August is a really, really, really terrible month for new games. Well, let me put a caveat to that. Both Madden and Tiger Woods come out this month, so if you are a sports gamer you will be happy. But other than that the only release that I found that holds any interest, even if it is only a morbid interest, is Too Human.

So, yeah…. August is Madden, Tiger Woods and Too Human. How did this happen? I mean I think even March had a better lineup than that. How can you let March be better than you, August!?!? Socom: Confrontation was supposed to be an August release, but it got pushed back to the end of September (edit:  pushed back again until the middle of October – ARGH!). Also, in the coming weeks EA is releasing a free content pack for Battlefield: Bad Company which will include the conquest mode that has been a staple of the Battlefield games since the series inception. The good news is that this add on pack is free (FREE?!?! FROM EA!??!?!). The bad news is that the conquest mode will only include 4 maps, which are just recycled versions of 4 gold rush maps. But it should add a new wrinkle to an already super fun game, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.

The Madden demo was released yesterday for the 360 and PS3. The Madden team claims to have taken some serious strides this year, and it shows in the demo, but the demo itself is terrible. Let me try to clarify that… The demo starts with you doing this virtual reality simulation to figure out what your Madden IQ is. It puts you through a number of drills to see how good you are at each facet of the game. The general idea is that if you suck at pass defense, the AI will knock down its difficulty level when you are playing pass defense. It’s an interesting idea, and not as new as EA would like you to think it is, but it also is rather boring and as a hardcore sim football fan, I just can’t get myself to give a shit about this. But I completed it, was basically All-Pro level for each thing (not surprising since that’s what level I’ve always played Madden on…. thanks for the simulation wasting my time to tell me what I already knew). So then the demo proper starts up. And this is where things get really good, and bad.

The demo is you, controlling the Giants, starting on a 4th and 1 with about a minute 20 left in the Super Bowl, down 4 points, against the Pats. Being a New York Giants fan I was like “cool.” But then I played it, and the game really seems to play great. The controls are tight, the AI seems solid, I have no major complaints about how the game plays…. not to mention that the graphics got a really nice overhaul and the game actually looks really, really good. But the problem is that the whole demo is just that 1:20 minute drive. You don’t get to play defense. You don’t get to see special teams. You don’t get to do anything other than one drive as the Giants against the Pats.

What a weak ass demo. I mean, I guess it did what it was supposed to do, it left me wanting more, especially since the game play actually does seem like a big improvement over the last few years. But NCAA’s demo had a full game with 2 min quarters and that left me wanting more also. I spent the majority of the day downloading this 1gig behemoth (not sure why, XBL was just really slow for me) to only get 1:20 seconds worth of game play, on only one side of the ball. So the final verdict is that the game seems like an improvement, but the demo doesn’t allow you to figure that out fully. A bad job by EA, if I do say so myself. Which i just did. Like nine times.

And that brings us to Too Human. Denis Dyack, the krazy kook that is a lead developer on the game has been all over the internet the last few months acting like an idiot, all apparently to drum up excitement for this game that has been in development for somewhere between 4 and 4058 years. So he has gone around to message boards picking fights with idiot 12 year olds, he has done interviews where he talks about how groundbreaking his game is, and how awesome the story is, and yada yada yada. Well, the demo for that came out a week or two ago, and it’s amazing in its mediocrity. The game deserves neither praise or scorn. It’s just a really average game in just about every way possible. The graphics look ok, the game plays ok, the animations are ok. But nothing screams out quality. But neither does it fail like so many Dyack haters wanted it to. Overall the game looks like a solid Diablo-type dungeon crawler, with a sci-fi setting. It’s a loot pinata, so if you are into that type of thing it will deliver. But personally, I found it rather boring. You just sorta slide your character around from enemy to enemy with the right stick (and yeah, your character literally does slide there, for unknown reasons). And the story is so overly complicated and convoluted that I found it hard to give a crap about any of it. So, uh, yeah, this one isn’t on my list of games to buy.

Tiger, Tiger Woods Ya’ll, on the other hand, should be a fun time for us video game golf enthusiasts. There is no demo up yet, so I have no idea how it plays, but it promises a host of improvements, especially in the online department. But in the end, it’s Tiger Woods. You already know if you are going to get it months before it comes out. You either like it or you don’t. There isn’t anything I or anyone else can write to convince you that video game golf is fun or not fun.

I hate August. Well, I hate summer. I hate sweating. I hate months with only 3 big video game releases. But the good thing about August is that after it is September, and September is awesome! It’s gets cooler. I sweat less. More games come out. Man, I can’t wait for freakin September.

Warhammer Online. Spore. Socom: Confrontation. The list goes on. Only one more month, folks.