A view from the North

So I’ve finally been able to sink my teeth into the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King beta beyond just the deathknight starting area and I have to say that after initial disappointment that I have come away pretty impressed.   This expansion certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it feels like a natural evolution of a game that is already pretty damn good.

I started by using my Gnome Warlock and headed to the Stormwind Harbor, which is amazing (haha, FU HORDE!) and headed up to the Borean Tundra, which has been dubbed by many as the Boring Tundra.    While that isn’t a completely fair assessment, I do have to say that when I first entered the dark portal and came out in Hellfire that my jaw dropped.   When I first got off the boat in the Borean Tundra I did not get that same sort of amazement.   I mean, it is a tundra after all…

The quests start slow, much like in The Burning Crusade in Hellfire, but open up as you get a few under your belt.   The questing is easy if you have any decent level of gear, the mobs are all 68-70 and don’t pose much of a threat.   Once you open up a few quest chains though you find a land filled with interesting stories and NPCs.   Storytelling seems to have taken a nice step forward with WOLK.

My main problem with this beta is that it doesn’t count.   My girlfriend described it as “playing the Sims 2 all night, making an awesome house and then not saving.”   That pretty much wraps up my issue with the beta, which isn’t the beta’s fault at all…  but what I find addicting about WoW is moving my character forward.  Doing that on a beta server that is going to be wiped kinda kills that aspect of the game for me.

So instead I decided to make some premade level 80s and check out the lay of the land.   Jaw dropping doesn’t even begin to describe what we are in store for with this expansion.   Take a look at this shot…

wowzers

wowzers

Yeah, we’ve seen the Aboms since the Plaguelands in Vanilla WoW, but look at that architecture!  Plus Aboms are still cool as shit, and the undead a major player in the lore of Northrend (being part of Arthas’ army and all).

Also in my random flying around I found this completely bizarre and awesome tree…

What the heck is going on here?

What the heck is going on here?

There are tons of things like this strewn about Northrend, stuff that will just make your jaw drop.    The lay of the land is definitely awesome, and the small amount of questing I’ve done seems to be on par if not better than the quests they added to TBC. Now the questions remain about whether Lake Wintergrasp will work or not (I tried it once and was utterly confused) and how class balance will play out.   I will say that the jump in damage is not all that huge.  On my level 70 lock I was incinerating mobs for about 2k.  At level 80 in full PVP gear I was hitting for 2.4k.   So there isn’t a huge jump in damage.   But that’s without raid buffs/synergy/etc.

If you have any questions about the beta or anything you want me to go in and check out, feel free to drop me a comment.

Advertisements

Back in action!

Sorry for the long disappearance of any life on this blog.   It was basically the perfect storm of my computer exploding, my PS3 exploding, my 360 exploding and one of my co-worker’s face exploding resulting in me working 45-50 hours per week for the last month (I usually work 36…  and most of those are overnights, my job rules!).    Oh and I’ve been in “talks” with parties that will go nameless about stuff that will go nameless that keeps not coming.   Yeah, that sentence makes no sense.

But i’m back on the good foot.   I finally was able to purchase a new PC, a hasty decision that is likely to bite me since some money I thought I had coming in doesn’t seem to be coming in… but whatever!  I HAVE A NEW PC!   2.4 ghz Quad Core, 4gb ram, 64 bit vista and…. ON BOARD VIDEO!   YES!   Why onboard video, you may be asking?   Well, because that’s how the computer came and I planned on buying a new card before the expected ship date of October 6th.   But, to my surprise I checked the tracking two nights ago and evidently the factory is like 2 hours from my house… so it was shipped in one day and it arrived yesterday.   YES!   Actual computing on this thing is amazing, but as of now the onboard Nvidia 7050 just isn’t up to the task.  A cute girl that I sometimes have sexual relations with described it as “getting a new boyfriend and then finding out he only has one leg.”   My computer certainly is just hopping around in 3d applications…  but someday soon I’ll have a card worthy of this rig.   I can’t wait.

Also, on the same day, like 19 years after I shipped it out, I got my Xbox 360 back from MS.   Well, actually it wasn’t mine back, they just sent me a new one.   It’s much quieter!  But it’s already starting to make weird noises.  But not as weird as my old one.

Firing that sucker up I got a chance to really sink my teeth into NHL 09.  This game is flat out amazing.  The meat of the game is in the online “EA sports league” which is much more than just a normal sports game league.  You create a guy and distribute attribute points and play games of 2v2/3v3/4v4/5v5 or 6/6 against other clubs.  Clubs can have up to 50 members and you can have simultaneous club games going.   It’s really an amazing addition to the sports genre, it almost feels like a MMORPG where you are grinding your character up… but instead of battlegrounds its on the ice.    I played 3 games of 2v2 (the game is still 6v6, but the others are computer controlled and you can’t switch off of your player) with my drunken buddy Steve357.  We went 1-2, with the last loss being a heartbreaker in OT.   There was absolutely zero lag.  He says he has played a few 6v6 games and even those didn’t have a hint of lag.   This is an absolutely amazing job by EA.    I never thought I would utter those words.

I also was able to jump back into my online dynasty in NCAA Football 09.  A friend of mine named Vodkuhh took over admin duties and my team while I was out of action and he got me a bowl birth.  Thanks man!

I see that a ton of stuff has come out that I need to get my hands on and blog about here.  The Force Unleashed looks fun.  Duke Nukem 3D, one of my favorite shooters of all time is up on the XBLA…  and a neat beatem up named Castle Crashers looks like tons o fun also.   And once I get a card for my PC I can get back on the PC gaming horse, I’m really looking forward to seeing how Crysis: Warhead makes my computer explode.

So…. I’m back.  I’m still working a lot, but I will be post regularly again now that I have systems to actually play games on.   Sorry for the short vacation there.

Oh and one last word…  the Socom: Confrontation beta has been a ton of fun.  The game still has serious issues but they don’t stop me from losing hours at a time playing.  I’m very happy with the job Slant Six has done on this game.

And a final, final word…  I will have an update from the Wrath of the Lich King beta up in the next few days, within the week at the longest.  In short:  It’s good, not amazing.

A quick dive into the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King beta… (Deathknight Edition)

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while, folks.   I’ve been working a ton of overtime at my “real” job and with both of my systems out of commission I don’t have as much to talk about.  Except for one little bitty tiny thing.  I got into the Wrath of the Lich King beta.

Where to start…. where to start….

Lets go with the Deathknights, the first new class introduced to World of Warcraft since they put Huntards in the closed beta about 4 years ago.    I made myself a gnome Deathknight because I am partial to the race (I’ve also have or have had –  I sold an account) a gnome warlock, a gnome mage and a gnome warrior.   I like gnomes.  They are creepy and small.

Anyway, the deathknight starting area as you may or may not know is just off the eastern edge of the Eastern Plaguelands.   Pretty much up in the hills behind Light’s Hope Chapel.   You start off in this massive, evil looking structure and follow a series of quests that give you basics on how the class is played, and also do a great bit of introducing you to the lore of not only Deathknights, but Arthas specifically.   In fact you interact with Arthas quite a bit.   I won’t get into any plot spoilers, but the way the story plays out is fantastic.  I would say the zone is blizzard’s best story telling to date in WoW.

The class itself is pretty damn fun to play.   I am considering making one my main, though I do fear there wil be overpopulation.   On the beta server I was on the Deathknight zone was PACKED at 3am when I first started.  Likewise, the next day around 5pm the zones in Northrend (which I will get into in a later post) were pretty empty.  So just using that as my judge there will be an assload of Deathknights.  But then again, I like to think I play pretty well so even if the class is a dime a dozen Im sure the better players will rise to the top.

The class seems to be fairly complicated, which is good.   That is the main reason I switched my main to a Warlock over the past year.  Yes, a fair bit of time is standing there spamming shadowbolts, but Lock’s have a ton of utility and can save a group from a catastrophic pull if played correctly.   Deathknights seem to be similar.   I only got mine to level 59, so I have not seen all the skills, but what is there is pretty cool.

Every class has one skill (or set of skills) that just redefines coolness, like a warrior’s charge or paly’s concecrate, or a mages use of quick snares and AOEs to burn something (or a group) down.   For Deathknights the skill is basically a tether that will grab an enemy from far away and drag his ass over to you with the quickness…  basically like Scorpion does in the Mortal Kombat games.  In fact I fully expect a bunch of mods to come out to play the “GET OVER HERE” sound clip when you use it.

The deathknight also has some other run of the mill skills, like abilities to taunt, to put a bit of extra damage on swings, to disease enemies… etc.   They are good, but nothing we haven’t seen in other classes.   Once you start unlocking talent points (you get a few each quest you do) and start going down the talent trees you start getting some cool ass abilities.   One ability, which is kinda the opposite of a holy priest, is that when you die you are resurrected for 45 seconds as this Undead killing machine.   It’s a great “oh shit” ability that can help stave off a wipe in an instance… or nab you an extra kill or two in PVP.   I also unlocked an ability where I have a chance on hit to make all these undead arms come out of the ground… though Im still not sure if they are doing damage or snaring.   I should probably pay closer attention to that.

My problem is that now that I am out of the starting zone and on to Hellfire I don’t have much desire to play him anymore.   I do want to see the new skills as I level… but at the same time since it doesn’t matter in the long run (because its beta…) I have a hard time motivating myself to do something I am just going to have to do over again on November 13th when this sucker comes out.

The 4 level window into the Deathknight I saw, however, was fantastic.  The class seems like a lot of fun to play, and like I said before the story in the starting area is as good as it gets in wow.   I do worry though that come 3 months into WOLK that 30-50% of the characters you will see standing around looking for groups will be Deathknights…

Socom Confrontation: In depth hands on

Many long time readers of the blog have heard me state over and over my love for Socom 1 and 2.   I have definitely anticipated Socom: Confrontation but I’ve also had my doubts and fears about the project.

For the unintiated, Socom is a 3rd person tactical shooter.  It offers a high amount of realism but doesn’t sacrifice gameplay in the process.   The third person perspective and map design are the two things that have set the Socom series above and beyond the competition.    With the third person camera you can swing it so you can peak around corners without giving up your position.   Is this realistic?   Not entirely, but first person games limit your view far too much, so this is one way to help remedy that.   It definitely makes creating ambushes an absolute blast.

So lets get into the meat of the beta and break down everything that Slant Six has done.   I’ll start off with the very obvious negatives to get them out of the way.   The beta has some pretty serious issues when it comes to loading into games, lag spikes during games and clan support.   A lot of features aren’t turned on yet, clan support mostly falls into this category.   But it’s a beta, I’m sure most of this stuff will be rolled out over the next few weeks.   They did patch the game this morning that promised fixes to loading into games and my few hours with it this morning post-patch has shown for that to be mostly true.   If you get into a lobby of a game that hasn’t started it takes about 30-45 seconds to get into a game now, down from 3-5 minutes.   If you join a game in progress it takes 1-2 minutes… down from 5-10 (to sometimes never).  Now, don’t get me wrong, 1-2 minutes to load a game is still too long, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Once you get past the bugs of the beta what you are left with is a very, very awesome game.   It isn’t perfect, and there are huge debates nerd raging about certain aspects of the game…  but that’s too be expected of a franchise so loved (it kinda reminds me of the World of Warcraft forums).     So lets break down each aspect of the gameplay.

Recoil – The firing mechanics have definitely changed since Socom 1/2 and this is probably the biggest point of contention right now among old school players.   Each side has legit reasons for their opinions on the subject and really it just comes down to personal playstyle.   Basically the issue is that when you are moving and you spray with your weapon the cone of spray is very large.   Those against this change point out that this takes the skill out of the hands of the player and it comes down to who is the most lucky.  Someone could have a target on your head and the spray will miss….  meanwhile you could be pointed at their feet and the spray may catch them in the face.  That situation (though much more rare than people on the internets make it out to be) is definitely frustrating.

But, at the same time, it just is not realistic to have deadly weapon accuracy when running at full speed.  And, from a gameplay perspective, this discourages running and gunning, which is a change I welcome fully.  There are a million run and gun games on the market, what has always set socom apart was the more tactical approach it took.   If I am crouched down I should have better aim than someone who is running full speed.

The answer, of course, is probably somewhere in the middle.   The cone of spray should probably be brought in a little tighter, but not as tight as it was in Socom 1/2.   And even if it isn’t changed at all, I certainly don’t feel like it is broken.   The whole issue is being overblown by nerd raging gamers who have yet to adjust to anything that isn’t Socom 1/2.   Honestly, I thought I was gonna fall into that camp, but for the most part I have enjoyed the changes that Slant Six has put in.

Outfitting/Guns/Encumbrance – This is another big change from previous socoms but so far it has been well received.   You can setup your character (both US-Germany and Northern African) and save weapon loadouts, what accessories you use, what type of camo you wear, etc.   The game uses a much more complex physics engine than previous socoms and this directly affects your character with encumbrance.  If you decide you want to put a grenade launcher on your weapon it won’t just affect your aim, it will also slow your movement speed.  Add a RPG and you will move even slower.   Put on heavy armor to take more shots and you will slow down to a snails pace.   Likewise, grab a light weapon, wear some light armor and skimp on the heavy add-ons and you will move briskly, more to the pace of Socom 1/2.   I still see a lot of folks bitching about the slow run speed, but they obviously haven’t messed with this feature.  If you want to move faster you can, but it comes at a price.  Just like loading up on noobtubes does.   The balance is brilliant.

The weapons themselves feel great, and the hit detection seems to be spot on.  It just takes a few well placed bullets to down someone… a welcome fix from the broken hit detection of Socom 2.   Most every weapon can be outfitted with 2 accessories, ranging from scopes to laser sights to silencers to grenade launchers to forward handles to help with aim.   Each has a distinct advantage and picking two is a tactical decision based on how you plan on playing.   This is an awesome, awesome addition.

Map Design / Lighting – It’s hard to get a completely accurate read on how well Slant Six’s maps will hold up against the old Socom 1/2 maps, but the additions to crossroads point to them having a good understanding of what makes a socom map work.   Each map has a 16 player and 32 player version, and the only map that the beta has is Crossroads from Socom 2, but everything added to the 32 player version of the map is all Slant 6, and so far so good.

The additions they made are off 2 opposing sides.   Each side has high snipe points, excellent ambush spots, ledges that can be traversed… roofs that can be accessed…  basically everything that makes Socom maps great.   I need to see a full map by these guys before I can say they are on par with Socom 1/2, but the additions to Crossroads do bode well for their skill.

One addition to the game that I have hardly seen mentioned anywhere is how amazing the lighting is.   Shadows in the game are very, very dark, and the sunlit areas are very, very bright (it takes place in North Africa, so it’s realistically bright).   If you are in the sun the shadows will appear much darker, but as you enter them they brighten up a bit, much like the human eye does in real life.    This is something that changes the way the game is played, for those of us that have been taking advantage of it.   If you come sprinting around a corner and are in the sun you know are a sitting duck for someone sitting in a shadow.   But, of course, the shadows have their own answers…  a couple grenades before running out will ensure you are safe.   This is another move away from the straight run and gun of the previous games and I *personally* prefer it.   I know a lot of Halo-type gamers will bitch about excessive camping, but whatever… go play halo.  The lighting makes for an atmosphere and gameplay not seen in a shooter like this previously.  I absolutely love it.

Things to work on – (in no particular order of importance)

1.  You can’t see your kill/death/etc stats for the whole match between rounds, only for that specific round.  This isn’t a game breaker, but I also don’t understand why they would leave this out.   Hopefully it gets patched in.

2.  I may not have found it yet, but there needs to be an easy way to mute people.   There are a lot of idiots that start spouting stupid shit over the mic and it should only take me a few button presses to squelch them.   This may already be in, but like I said I haven’t found it yet.

3.  As mentioned above, the weapon spray should be toned down a little bit.  Don’t *COMPLETELY* give into all the nerd ragers who want perfect accuracy at full speed, but it does feel a little bit loose right now.  Try to strike that perfect balance of realism and gameplay.

4.  Beta issues…  loading is better but still slow.   Lag spikes are pretty common.   Also, if someone lags out they become invincible…. not sure why.   Clan support looks like it is going to be very robust, but let us test it and work out the kinks before it goes live.

5.  Graphics need a slight bit of polish.  Again, not a game breaker, but it can look muddy sometimes.   It does seem they made the tradeoff of having amazing lighting at the expense of high res textures…  and I’ll take the lighting given the choice.  But, it would be nice if they could clean it up just a little bit.   I personally think the game looks fine, but the graphic whores out there will bitch and moan about it.   I’m also guessing that if it looks muddy on my TV it probably looks pretty bad on a SD-TV.

6.  The way the rounds play out has changed from socom 1/2 and for the worse, IMO.   It used to be a flat best out of 11(or atleast the games I created were, you could shorten or lengthen the series), the first team to six wins won.   Now it’s a set amount of rounds that get played no matter what (even if one team wins every one) and if the game ends in a tie there is no playoff.  This is a bad, bad change.   Please revert it back to how Socom 1/2 did it.   Games ending in a tie are just not acceptable.

So that’s it for now.  The beta only having one map makes it a bit limited on seeing how the whole game will pan out, but so far I must say I am very, very pleased with the direction they are taking the series.   I love the more realistic approach, the amazing lighting, the character outfitting choices that have a major affect on how you play…  the game has the goods to be pretty damn amazing.   Let’s just hope Slant 6 can clean it up and deliver us those goods.

The most important Spore interview in the history of everything ever.

My ladyfriend, who I have discussed at length in previous posts, picked up Spore today.   I haven’t had a chance to play it yet since her computer is the only computer that can run it in our apartment.   So i decided to go straight to the source to get the dish for all my faithful readers.

We used very, very complex technologies to conduct this interview.  Some people know it as AIM, and some people might think it’s weird to AIM someone sitting 2 feet away from you…  but, well, whatever!

Without further ado… (AIM names changed to protect the innocent)

Mort: hi
Thegirlfriend: hello, mr. dood.
Mort: Stop spelling my name wrong!
Thegirlfriend): no
Mort: Plus these people don’t even know my real name, it’s a HUGE secret
Thegirlfriend: well, they still don’t.
Mort: Good point
Mort: Alright then,  A/S/L?
The Girlfriend: really?
Mort: really!
Thegirlfriend: 25/please/two feet away
Mort: hot
Mort: and lol @ 25
Thegirlfriend: eff u
Mort: Ok, so you happened to get Spore today
Thegirlfriend: this is true.
Mort: What are your impressions of it so far?
Thegirlfriend: well, i obviously like it, as you’ve no doubt figured out.
Mort: Indeed, it’s been quite a few hours of really, really strange noises coming from your side of the room
Thegirlfriend: haha, yeah those spore guys are friggin loud.
Mort: I like that they laugh now
Thegirlfriend: i usually turn off sound effects and music in games, but i kind of like these.
Mort: Yeah, i described it as sounding like a “Primordial orgy” to my wow nerds
Thegirlfriend: definitely.  i especially like that each character has their own singing voice and each speices has their own specific dance music.
Mort: that’s pretty cool
Thegirlfriend: in case you didn’t know, singing and dancing are pretty important to the game.
Mort: I didn’t know.
Thegirlfriend: well, now you do.
Mort: indeed!
Mort: Ok, so knowing you as I do, I know you are a fan of Will Wright’s other games, especially The Sims
Mort: How does this compare?
Thegirlfriend: well, i’m not that far into it, but so far it’s as enjoyable, though in a different way than the other sims games.
Thegirlfriend: i mean, with Spore you start off as a cell and go forth from there, creating an entire civilization.  You’re past the whole cell part when you’re playing the sims.
Thegirlfriend: personally, i thought the first stage of Spore, the cell stage, was pretty unneeded.
Mort: Maybe the sims 3 will start inside a woman’s stomach
Thegirlfriend: you basically just float around eating stuff.
Thegirlfriend: haha, we can hope.
Thegirlfriend: maybe it will start a few seconds before that!
Mort: Yeah, that actually reminded me of a game called Flow on the PS3… where that’s the whole point to the game.   i didn’t get into that much but (name removed) came over and got high and loved it
Thegirlfriend: is the name removed because of the getting high?
Mort: Yes
Mort: And no Mom, I don’t do drugs!
Thegirlfriend: you’re a good friend.
Mort: I am a good friend, thanks for pointing that out!
Mort: That’s actually something I wanted to get into a little bit
Mort: You’re a girl, who games from time to time
Thegirlfriend: from time to time.
Mort: with a boyfriend who is obsessive about videogames
Thegirlfriend: one could say that.
Mort: How does that life treat you?
Thegirlfriend: i don’t know how to answer that.
Mort: Good, good.
Mort: Ok, so back to Spore!
Mort: The latest stage you were on
Thegirlfriend: yes
Mort: you said it reminded you of the old warcraft real time strategy games
Thegirlfriend: well, i just enetered the tribal portion of the creature stage.  at the advent of the creature stage (i don’t remember what that was called), i basically just ran around to other tribes and sang and danced and charmed and tried to make allies. now, i’m in charge of a tribe, who has to basically do the same thing.  the reason it reminds me of warcraft, in particular, is because now i have to keep track of everyone in my tribe, which is problematic for me.
Mort: Kind of like having two cats
Thegirlfriend: kind of yes, except i rarely need my cats to go and gather fruit.
Mort: But when the day comes that you do, you will be happy to have my gathering skills on your side!
Mort: I command whole armies and shit
Thegirlfriend: i know you do dear.
Mort: Remember when I gathered wood on our trip?  I learned that from Warcraft 2, i was like a peon.
Thegirlfriend: i gathered wood, too!
Mort: You did, until you got attacked
Thegirlfriend: you had to come and save me, yes, but…
Thegirlfriend: the hazards of wearing tights when camping, i suppose.
Mort: Ok, personally I absolutely hate point based scoring in reviews of games, it’s completely arbitrary and pointless.   So, what would you give Spore out of 10?
Thegirlfriend: i seriously hate point based anything, but for the sake of discussion, so far i’d give it a 7.5.  this is taking into account many things, mostly creativity and graphics.  i haven’t gotten very far in the game so the actual game is less on my mind when giving that score.
Mort: OMFG I KANT BELIEVE U JUST 7.5’D IT!!!!!!!!
Thegirlfriend: it looks awesome and i’m looking forward to seeing my creatures all the way to the end.  i added an extra .5 to that score because i don’t have to make them pee and make lunch like in the sims games.
Thegirlfriend: that was difficult to read.
Mort: Yeah, that was my version of the internet’s reaction
Mort: Because, you know, millions of people read this blog every minute
Thegirlfriend: ah.  ❤ internets.
Thegirlfriend: BILLIONS
Mort: Anything below a 9 is a complete and utter failure
Mort: if you are on the internet
Thegirlfriend: well, i’m sure that by the time i’m done, that score will have changed.
Thegirlfriend: and i’m sure that there are people who have brought one creature all the way through the stages who will comment and give a more accurate numerical score.
Mort: Yeah but i don’t get to make out with those people
Thegirlfriend: but a 7.5, in my book is really good.
Mort: Before we go, you are quite the accomplished Scrabulous player, yes?
Thegirlfriend: i hold my own?
Mort: Almost 2000 rated!
Mort: Don’t be bashful!
Mort: You don’t even get points kicking my dumb ass anymore.
Thegirlfriend: ok ok.  i’m frigin awesome.  worship me.
Mort: I would, but I cry inside every time you beat me 450-100
Mort: Alrighty, thanks for your time, darling, wanna watch some Dexter?
Thegirlfriend: you know i do!
Mort: Sweet, see you there and stuff.
Thegirlfriend: adios.
You heard it here first, folks…  Spore is a 7.5 game, which in her world is really, really good.  In fact, I once asked her to rate me out of 10 and I was only a 6.5.  So Spore is a full point better than me.

Socom: Confrontation Beta Begins…

Just a quick update…  for anyone who has pre-ordered Socom: Confrontation the beta has begun today.  Those of you that got into the beta via buying the first episode of Qore get to join us next Friday.   The beta runs till October 5th.

I plan on writing some detailed impressions in a day or two, but for now I’m just gonna say it’s clearly in beta (you can’t even get into a game half the time) but the gameplay is just about everything I hoped it would be.    Look here after the weekend for more details for any of you hardcore Socom junkies.

More downloadable madness!

With both of my systems broken in one way or another, my gaming has been relegated basically to my girlfriend’s 4 year old PC and downloadable games on the PSN.   The good news, for me, is that World of Warcraft runs just fine on PCs older than McCain and the PSN has had some pretty freakin awesome downloadable games lately.

I’ll start with Bionic Commando: Rearmed…  it is a full fledged remake of the original Bionic Commando from the Nintendo Entertainment System.   If you never played that game it really was quite revolutionary in its day.   It is a side scroller, of course, with some shooting here or there, but the main point of the gameplay is using your bionic arm which will latch on to stuff allowing you swing around like Tarzan.   There is no jump button at all, so you will be using the bionic arm early and often.   And it’s the swinging that is so addictive about the game, you will have to swing over some pretty precarious real estate to make your way through the game where timing needs to be completely spot on.   You will die a lot, but you will also keep saying “Ok, just one more attempt” for about 2 hours straight.

The remake updates the graphics with a very vibrant polygonal world with next gen particle effects (the gameplay is still in 2d, however).   The level design for the most part is the same, but they redid the bosses and added some new secret areas.   And, evidently, they completely redid the last level.   I haven’t gotten there yet (about 3 levels to go) so i can’t say much about it, but from what I read it is very, very well done.  They have also added a ton of quick little challenges, ala the VR missions from Metal Gear Solid.   These are all based on using your bionic arm to get through the most impossible of areas in as little time as possible, with an online leaderboard to let you know where you stand.

I am biased in that Bionic Commando is one of my favorite NES games of all time, so this remake is instantly one of my favorite downloadable games on the 360 or PS3.  And, for the record, if you own both systems and you aren’t sure which to get it for, I would recommend the PS3.   I’ve only played the demo on the 360 but the 360 D-Pad is so, so, so terribly horrible that it makes controlling your arm a huge pain in the ass.   So unless you are the hugest of achievement whores, I would stick with the PS3 version.

Also out on the PS3 in the last couple weeks is Ratchet and Clank: The Quest for Booty. I have to be honest and lose some gamer cred in the process, but before this I have never played a Ratchet and Clank game.  I’m not really sure why, but for some reason in my PS2 days and even my PSP days I never bought R+C or Sly Cooper or any of those games.   I kept hearing how good they were but just never pulled the trigger on a purchase.   I even downloaded the demo for Ratchet and Clank: Future Tools of Destruction and really enjoyed it… but didn’t buy it.  In my defense there was like 90000 awesome games last fall, so something had to be skipped.

With that out of the way, I have some breaking news:  Ratchet and Clank is really, really awesome.   If you know nothing about the series it’s basically a 3d platformer ala Super Mario 64, but with inventive weapons and a bit more twitchy.   The gameplay stays varied throughout, you do everything from standard platforming, to fighting tons of guys at once, to grinding rails (with well timed jumps) ala Tony Hawk Pro Skater or some of the 3D Sonic games (but ya know… good).   The gameplay is very tight, the visuals are amazing… it’s just an awesome package for $15.   Most reviewers put the length at 3-4 hours, but I am 3 hours in and don’t feel like I am anywhere near the end…  but I tend to do a lot of meandering in my playing.

The thing most exciting about this game though is the precedence it sets.   Lets just hope it sells well because it really is a brilliant idea.   Insomniac Games was sitting on this great property and already had the engine from Future Tools of Destruction so they were able to create something that is fairly cutting edge, yet be the perfect length and price for a downloadable game.   They could have easily just made it an add on pack for Future Tools…  but that wouldn’t have gotten people like me to buy it.   And, I must admit, they have hooked me, as soon as my PS3 is repaired I will be picking up Future Tools.   I hope to see more games release content like this.

And finally, the demo (and full game) for The Last Guy is up on the PSN.   The Last Guy is everything that is right about downloadable games.   It’s a very strange, Japanese top down strategy game (I guess?) where you control a dude and run around and grab survivors and avoid zombies.   It’s the perfect type of game for this medium, it’s easy to pick up and play, the top down graphics are actually quite photorealistic and it’s just weird enough to crack you up.   It’s not the funnest thing I have ever played, but it is different enough to keep me entertained and I do plan on purchasing the full version when I get a bit more money just to give my support to developers who come up with new and weird games for us to play.