(a)Final Fantasy XIII-2(review)

A Six Movement Symphony.

Before purchasing Final Fantasy XIII-2 there are a litany of questions you need to answer. Unlike the JRPG golden age the roleplaying landscape has shifted incontrovertibly towards a more action (and western) oriented fare that is lighter on story but deeper in the worlds they create. Even in Japan and greater Asia the more popular games like Monster Hunter  have moved along this paradigm. It’s not uncommon in conversations with friends or folks on the internet to hear “Well, I used to love JRPGs but ever since I played Elder Scrolls they just seem silly.” While I can certainly understand this mindset, a mindset my sexually deviant co-host shares, I think it’s short-sighted.

The bottom line, however, is that before you even walk into the store you need to ask yourself a few questions.  Are ok with turn based battles? Are you ok operating in a world that isn’t one giant, open continent? Can you handle characters that are probably younger than you (and act as such)? Will heavy-handed writing make you want to turn off your PS3 forever? If you can’t get past those, don’t bother. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a fine game but it’s not going to bring in a new audience. The trappings that have sent many running away from JRPGS are on full display here.

But that is also a reason to rejoice if you’re a fan such as myself. Final Fantasy XIII splintered even the hardcore Final Fantasy fans with a list of sins that don’t need repeating here, but the first thing you will notice is right off the bat is that most of these problems are remedied. The worlds are opened up for exploration and you are never restricted to parties of certain classes, so you can ease up those shoulders a bit. And, in fact, the story starts off quite strong. I will admit up front that the story in japanese games are rarely the draw for me. In fact it’s something I deal with just to experience the rest of the game. Minimalist efforts out of Japan like Ico or Demon’s Souls are what I prefer, once they go for something larger, be it Catherine or some sweeping madness like Valkyrie Chronicles I just grit my teeth and try to not to let it bring me too far down.

XIII-2 didn’t even require much teeth gritting for the first third or so. The main characters are neither whiny or cocky, seemingly a first in a JRPG. The concept of time travel is neat, especially for us western geeks that grew up on sci-fi fodder like Star Trek: TNG. Once things get going it starts to fall apart though. The time travel rules seem inconsistent at best and completely nonsensical at worst. And then the characters start to question their own motives and that’s when the melodrama comes on HARRRDDDDDDDDD. There is a two hour stretch of the game that is basically japanese teenagers having a meltdown. Luckily it was visually interesting which prevented me from throwing the disc out the window, but the story I once liked had turned back into that which I despised. Also the ending is bound to cause a lot of controversy. I fall on the side that thought it was awesome.  However, this side seems to be in the minority. So, yeah, you should know that most people who finish this game are then pissed off.

Other offenses in the game include dialogue that delves into the seriously corny. “We have to save the future!” must have been yelled at least 300 times in my 30 hours making it through the main story. Character interactions start off strong but become weaker as the story goes on as it seems like old faces are being ushered into the scene by an overcaffeinated stage hand. There are some interesting surprises here though and I won’t ruin them. But the concept of time travel does mean you get to see some interesting things and Square didn’t miss the opportunities here. As the story starts to build you say “I hope I get to see that” even though it’s scheduled for 100s of years in the future… and chances are you do. So that’s pretty rad.

And really, the rest of the game is pretty rad. My reservations with the game begin and end with the story. There are a few niggling problems here or there, but overall this is a well made game. The combat system from XIII is back with some smart revisions that make it flow very smoothly. If most turn based combat is akin to you playing chess as you lay out moves for each piece to make, the combat in XIII-2 is more like a symphony and you are the conductor. You don’t get to pick up each individual instrument but the level of control you have over the totality of the song (err fight) is unparalleled. As you slide between paradigms trying to counter what each boss is throwing back at you, the give and take is fast and furious, something rarely felt in turn based combat. It may not make purists happy but the combat, to me, is a giant step forward for the genre. Now, don’t get me wrong, I hope to play some JRPGs this year that also take steps back to the glory days, but at least in moving forward Square has hit the ball out of the park.

The world itself is generally a wonderful place to be. The game is split up into hubs that you travel between time to. Each has a theme, be it jungle or ruins or snow or cities. A couple of the zones, specifically the ruins that are featured in the demo, are fairly uninteresting looking. But there are some areas of the game that literally had my jaw drop on the floor. Literally! Like I don’t have a jaw anymore. It fell off. It’s on the floor! I shit you not.

The music that accompanies these vistas is equally as strong. There are some interesting choices mixed in, like one fight was heavy metal with screaming vocals for reasons I still don’t understand (other than the nod to FFX?). There are also shades of Baiyon’s efforts in the Pixel Junk games and quite a few pieces that owe a bit of debt to the Phantasy Star Online soundtrack. I’m not complaining about any of these selections, mind you, the music is fantastic – except for the occasional adult contemporary pop song complete with singing.

The sound, visuals and combat combine to create a truly sublime experience. When this game is at its best there is nothing like it. And, it must be said, this game is polished to a blinding shine… a wonderful departure from the buggy offerings that have dominated the western releases from Bethesda, Bioware and others. Everything in this game from the menus to static 2d art is amazingly crafted.  And in my 30 hours I didn’t run into a single bug.

This game offers the best and the worst of the modern JRPG.  I have a hard time listening to a couple of teenagers tell each other, and me, over and over that they need to save the future.  Also the story gets crushed under its own grandiosity.  But, there is something refreshing about that.  Skyrim, for how amazing it is, is a story of a dude that can kill dragons that then goes and kills dragons.  The story that Square is attempting to tell is complex, it has a million players with obscure names like Etro and locations like the Yaschas Massif that will test your memory and your patience.  But if you can tune it all out and just conduct the symphony of atmosphere and combat you aren’t likely to find a more compelling experience anywhere.

4/5

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A Newb’s Guide to MAG 2.0 in the key of MOVE

Quick note:  This is a work in progress and I will try to update it as Zipper updates the game.  Right now is the first draft and it’s 5am and I know there are errors in there, feel free to point them out, and I will fix them.  Thanks!

Intro:

If you listen to the podcast you know that my obsession lately has been MAG on the PS3 using the Move controller.  If you don’t listen to the podcast you now know that from the sentence before this one.   In any case, I love MAG, and you should too, but if you want to jump in you have quite a bit to learn.   One of the things that makes MAG so attractive – its depth – is also what is the most punishing aspect to anyone picking up a controller (or dildo with a brightly colored ball on the end).   I am by no means a MAG expert.  Hell, I’m not even that good.  But I have put in about 45 hours over the last three weeks and I’ve gone from clueless newb to kinda knowledgable semi-vet and it all happened recently enough that I feel like I might have a pretty decent perspective on the questions new players have.  So, lets do this thing…

Getting Started:

The first thing you need to know about MAG is that there are 3 PMC’s.  The PMCs are basically factions, like a game like World of Warcraft (being Alliance and Horde).   In MAG the PMCs are Valor, who are located in Alaska, are the most “US Army-ish” and aren’t very good.  Then there’s Raven who is located in Central America, are a bit more high tech, and aren’t very good.  And then there is SVER, who have the weakest tech but the easiest (by far) maps to defend.  SVER wins everything right now.  Each game mode has different contracts to win (it takes a ton of wins to earn the contracts, on average a mode’s contracts change hands about once a day).  The contracts give different bonuses to your PMC, like cooldown on tactical strikes (something a newb doesn’t really need to know about) to increases in XP and other cool stuff.   So being that SVER has all the contracts and the easiest maps to defend, they are the newb friendliest choice.   But sometimes the easy road isn’t the fun road.   I would say if you love Assault Rifles you may way to go with Raven as their guns are really great.   If you are a masochist you might want to choose Valor.   Also, this is purely speculation, but I’m guessing that SVER is going to get some nerfs pretty soon.  Zipper can’t be happy with them dominating everything.

Once you pick your PMC you will hop into the training mode.  This will give you the rundown of the button layout.   One of the nice things is that training mode has been updated to recognize when you are using the move and not just default to tell you to hit “R2” when there is no R2 on a Move.   This is a good time to apply new settings to your Move controller, if you are using one, because the default settings are absolute shit.   Otherwise play through the training because the XP you earn in there is real.  From there you are ready to hop to the next step…

For Move users only ->

Using the Move in MAG is the most fun I’ve had controlling a console shooter probably ever.  It takes a good while to get used to it, but the precision aiming is far greater than any analog stick could ever offer.  There is a lot of info to track down to get the proper understanding of the tech (like you need to think of it more as a mouse than a handgun) and the settings.  The official MAG 2.0 thread over at NEOGAF is a great place to start and one of the main posters is the guy over at iWaggle.com that made this ABSOLUTELY AMAZING video breaking down exactly how the Move works with MAG and what exactly each setting does.   It is exhaustive in how detailed it is.  I give major props to the iWaggle guy and recommend everything on his site.  You won’t find better Move related info anywhere.

If you want a cheat sheet (since you’re reading this and you promise to go check that stuff out later) here are the settings most people use as a baseline and then tweak to their liking:

All credit goes to TTP (aka the iwaggle guy)

Player rotation – 70
Player pitch – 30
Gesture sensitivity – 100 (you need to thrust the Move forward to perform knife attack – don’t worry this wont cause unintentional knifing)
Scope sensitivity – 100
Normal play – 60 / 40 / 80
Fixed iron sights – OFF (If you have this to On you are doing it wrong)
Iron sights – 0 / 10 / 40

If you’re like me what you will notice pretty quickly as you run around the training course is that aiming feels absolutely sweet but turning is problematic…  and the unlocked sights feels weird in a ‘hey they never did that before’ kind of way.  Don’t worry, all of these things go away.  The turning takes the longest, several hours even, to become completely second nature, but i promise that it will.  Just stick with it.   You will also find that doing the jabbing motion to stab is a bit problematic.  Once you get better at doing very small jabs your guys view wont go all screwy.   I will admit that i still can get overzealous knifing in the heat of battle and I would prefer zipper put it on a button.   But for everything else that feels better (and more importantly – more fun) its worth a couple wacky knife fights.

Getting started (part 2):

Ok so we picked our PMC and did the training and got our controllers at decent settings.   It is now time to get owned.  I say that to both dual shock and Move users alike.   You are going to get owned early on, there is just no way to avoid this.  Just make peace with the fact that you will be sporting a .3 to .5 KDR for the next couple weeks.  There are good reasons for this that will make you appreciate the game more in the long run.

Like many shooters these days MAG has a leveling system.   Actually MAG has two systems, one that levels 1-70, and one that is basically money, which is known as CP in the game.  So each new level you get gives you one skill point to put in one of the many trees (each weapon type has a tree, medic stuff has a tree, repairing has a tree, there is a HP/resistances tree, an athletics trees…  there’s a lot of fucking trees!).  You will notice out of Training that you have a point to use.  Don’t feel overwhelmed by putting it in the wrong spot or anything.  You can redo your points using the respec system fairly easily.  It’s designed so your choices stick with you for a while, but within a day or two you will have enough respec points to completely redo your talent trees.

Most people will default into putting points into whatever weapon they prefer, and I certainly wouldn’t fault you for doing so, but I would recommend you hold off on that for a little bit.  The wisest move is to start to work on the Medic tree and work your way towards resuscitation (aka rezzing).  And then when you earn enough CP go and buy the ‘medical kit’ so you can rez your fallen comrades.   This is good for multiple reasons…  everyone likes getting rezzed or healed and you get 10 XP for each one you do.  Likewise you only get 5 per kill or 3 per assist.  So it’s good XP!  And your squadmates will thank you (since your 3 kills and 20 deaths wont be winning you any love).

After the Medic/Rez thing, I would earn enough CP to get the repair gun.  Repair guns will help your team in HUGE ways and they will also earn you the most CP to buy new toys.  Because as you will find out as you level it’s actually pretty easy to get the XP to get from level to level, the hard part is earning the CP to buy all the toys along the way.   I will get to how to earn CP later, as it happens in the later game types that open to you.

Game modes and the newb:

There are several game types which vary from 64 players to 256 players.  When you first get out of training you can only do Suppression, which is basically a team deathmatch.   This is the most newb friendly mode because you don’t have any objectives to worry about and for the most part its other low-level people playing it.   Though, be forewarned, there are KDR whores that camp in Suppression all day and have more health than you, better armor than you, better guns than you and know the maps better than you.   Like I said earlier, you’re going to get owned.   But, this is a good place to hide out while you learn the ropes since you can go lone wolf without your teammates getting pissed.  But lets take a look at the real modes…

Sabotage (and some other newb info):

This is a 64 player mode that has two objective points (A + B) that the attackers need to hold simultaneously to unlock the third objective (C).   This is a fairly simplistic mode and actually where I spent most of my time getting used to the game (and the Move).  It plays out like a team deathmatch with the objectives giving each team a place to run to fight each other.   If you are an attacker you basically just want to stick with your squad.  A squad moving together, obviously, will have a much easier time taking over their assigned objective than one that trickles in one or two at a time.  If your squad leader is smart he will assign a FRAGOS to the objective you are supposed to go for.  A FRAGOS is just a dumb word for the place your commander wants you to go.  When you do things within the FRAGOS area you get double XP, so it pays to listen to your commander.   But if he is an idiot you obviously don’t have to do what he says.  You can tell which place is FRAGO’D by the pulsing white box around its icon.

If you are on defense in Sabotage you really have two choices…  setup camp at the objective and pick off guys as they come in, or go run and gun and try to flank them or get behind them and rack up as many kills as you can on a suicide run.   I personally enjoy doing the latter, as I’ve never been much of a camper, but both are fun and both will help your team win.  And, of course, whether on offense or defense it makes sense to bring your med kit to rez anyone you can.

It’s also worth noting that Sabotage, Suppression and Interdiction are the only modes that aren’t PMC specific.   It used to be back at launch, but sometime along the way they decided to make it faction neutral, which means you can end up defending on any of the maps.  In the rest of the modes you will have a “home” map in which you always defend, and when you attack it’s always at the other two PMCs.

Interdiction:  (Add on content  $4.99)

I highly recommend picking this up for a few reasons even though there is one good reason not to (which ill get to in a second).   But first off, the price is only $4.99 now and this game is awesome and the developers said they will keep adding to it if the DLC keeps selling (and for that matter buy Escalation which should be out by the time I post this….).   But the other big reason to buy this is that Interdiction is unlocked from the start and it’s 200% XP all of the time.  There is also some new armor you can buy with CP in the Interdiction pack.   The only reason to not buy it is that it’s not always running.   While the game remains quite popular and supposedly Interdiction sold very well, these days late at night it will empty out.  If you play during prime time that’s not really a concern.  And Im guessing with the recent (as in today…) drop to $4.99 will probably solve that.  But even if it doesn’t, you won’t want to be playing the mode 24/7 anyway, as its good but not the best, so you play a few games during prime time and later at night you play the other modes.  Everyone is happy.  Oh… and it has some new trophies.

As for the mode itself, it plays like Conquest from the Battlefield series with a couple small twists.   There are three objectives and controlling them drains the bar of the other team.  So if your PMC has control of 2 and the other PMC has 1, you will win.   Of course it’s not really that simple and each of the three objectives will change hands many times.   This is a mode that if you have a good squad leader and a good squad that defends or attacks each FRAGOS location, you can do a ton to help your PMC win *AND* rack up a ton of 200% XP in the process.

Each PMC also has mortars that they can shell the bejesus out of just about any location with.  The problem (or awesome-thing) about them is that they can get dismantled.  So if someone takes out your mortars your commanders have less tools to help you take a command point.  This is the first place a repair kit comes in handy.   Find the broken mortar launcher, pull out your repair gun and fix that fucker.  If you do that a couple of times you will get a combat ribbon at the end of the game and a nice little CP reward to go with it.  This is the start of how you earn money to get better stuff.

Likewise if you are near their mortars and can sneak in, go in there and plant a charge  (basically hit circle when prompted).  Knocking out their mortars helps a bunch.

Both teams also get a good number of vehicles which aren’t the toughest things in the world but they act as mobile spawns.   So take out your repair gun and keep yours at full health.  A lot of the time your squad will hide one near an objective to have a spawn close by.  Other times your squad will drive around try to turn it into a rolling death machine.   Both are good, legit strats.  Just make sure you are on the same page with your team.  If they setup the vehicle to be the spawn and then you hop in and drive it off to east bumfuck… well, you won’t be very liked.

Acquisition:

Acquisition is the start of the more complex game types.  It is a 128 player mode in which the attacking PMC is trying to steal two vehicles from the defending PMC.   The problem is that there are quite a few steps that the attacker has to get through before they can get the vehicles.  This game is the perfect training grounds for Domination, which is the giant 256 player mode that you will basically live in once you get leveled up a bit.  So it’s a good place to learn some very important MAG skills and strategies.

The game starts at what I’ll call the beginning of the map (with the end of the map being where the vehicles are housed).  The attacking team has a safe spawn location and the defending team has a bunker for each squad.   The bunkers are a big deal.  They have a turret on top that a player can man that is quite powerful (and will eat up any humans or vehicles attempting to be stolen) and they are also where you spawn.

If you are on offense your first major goal is to destroy the bunker that is in your line to the end of the map.  You do this by getting up to the computer looking thing in back and hitting circle when prompted… and then making sure the defenders don’t disarm that before it blows the whole thing to shit.  This is easier said than done, obviously.   One thing you can do to make it easier is use RPGs to take out the turret on top.  After a few hits with rockets it will go down, leaving only the soldiers with their guns to defend it.  If you sweep in together as a squad you should be able to take it.   If your squad leader is working with other squad leaders your squad may join with another to overwhelm one bunker and then move down the line and take out each one.

If you are on defense you want that repair gun and when RPGs come in at your turret go prone on the roof and repair that thing.  Keeping that gun up is the key to holding your bunker.  Otherwise you want just want to kill bad guys and rez friends.  If they do blow up your bunker you can fight your way back there and repair it.  If you can get it back up, which is no easy feat (aka its slow…) you can use it as a spawn again.

After the bunker is down, however, there are a few other targets to take out.   I believe there is an AA (anti air) gun.  Once you take that out you don’t have to spawn at the begining, you can parachute in about halfway through the level.   There is also a motor pool (where vehicles are born) and some other targets like roadblocks.  As the attackers you want to take each of these things out.  Having the closer spawn obviously helps, but getting rid of the other stuff means that when one of your guys finally does steal the other PMC’s vehicle it will have an easier time getting out.

On defense you obviously don’t want these things to happen.  It’s a difficult balance between defending key items (like the AA) or just camping the areas where the vehicles are.  Because, obviously, if you kill them before they get to it they can’t steal it.

Escalation (DLC  $9.99)

I don’t have much info on this mode yet.  I wasn’t in the beta so I haven’t tried it.  It was supposed to be out today but something went haywire at Sony HQ so now they are saying tomorrow.  Which is today if you are reading this tomorrow.  Or maybe its 3 weeks ago if you are reading this in december.

Anyway, here’s what I know…
It’s 96 players, and it’s the only mode that all three PMCs do battle at once (each brings a platoon of 32 players).  The downloadable pack also includes new guns to buy with CP and some trophies.  And like Interdiction it has 3 new maps for this mode and is PMC neutral so you don’t have a home map to defend.

Domination:

This is what MAG is all about, the big kahuna, the 256 players all converging on one spot to bring the internet and your PS3’s emotion engine or whatever its called this gen to its knees.  Domination lives up to the hype.  This is the last mode to unlock (at level 8 i believe) and it’s where you probably will be spending most of your MAG career.

The concept is this:  there are 8 objectives in buildings at the middle of the map that you need to take over and hold to bleed out the defender’s bar and win the game.   You can’t just bumrush that building though as there are steps along the way that you need to do to unlock it.   Lets start by taking the role of attackers.
As attackers there are a number of primary and secondary objectives on the way to unlocking your letters and then taking over said letters.  It basically goes in this order:  Take out burnoff tower #1, take out the enemy bunker, take out the AA, take out burnoff tower #2…  and then your letter is unlocked and you are good to go on the final attack.  I think the only parts of that you *need* to do are the two burnoff towers… but if you don’t do the rest you will have a hell of a time making it into the last objective.   There is also more you can do to make it easier, like taking out their mortar launchers, their motor pools, their sensor arrays.   All of these things give the commanders abilities they can use against you…  so taking them out will obviously makes attacking easier.

It’s best to do what your squad leader wants unless he is a complete jackass.  And most of the time if your squad leader sucks he will be voted out (since there is no ‘vote to demote’ it’s the only course of action) and after he gets the boot someone smart will hopefully take over squad leader.  So basically as a complete newb all you want to do is follow the FRAGOS and rez your pals as you move to each objective.  A smart squad leader has you start with the bunker first and then backtracking to burnoff tower #1 (as its much easier to take out without a bunker/turret shooting you in the face) and then from there has you take out every major secondary objective on the way to burnout tower #2.  Don’t worry, newbs, you don’t really need to understand whats going on at first.  Just go to the FRAGOS and stick with your team.  Getting a few kills and a few rezzes will keep everyone happy and as you spend more time in the mode on each map it will all start to make sense.

On defense your primary concerns are your bunker and the AA which is usually behind your bunker.  The burnoff tower in front of you is nice to keep, but if the attackers get it – it’s not the end of the world.  As long as your bunker stays up and the AA behind you stays up, they can’t get the closer spawn point, so taking out the 2nd burnoff tower is very difficult.   Domination is a repair-ist’s wet dream.   Your turret will get hit a lot, repair it.  Your AA will go down.  Repair it.  Your roadblocks will go down.  Repair them.  When you are pushed all the way back to defending your letters there are doors which can be blown up by the attackers…. and repaired by you!  Most things if you repair two of them (like 2 doors, 2 bunkers, etc) you get a ribbon at the end of the match, and each ribbon is worth a chunk of CP.   This is how the newb earns his CP.   There are tons of other ribbons (25 kills in a match with a weapon type, blowing up a certain amount of stuff, etc etc) but none are easier to get than the repairing ones.  So when you play domination hope you are on the defending team and bring your repair kit!

All around newb tips:

+  Rezzing is awesome, but rezzing when its safe is more awesome.  If there is an evil doer 30 yards away scoping in at the guy you are going to res and he has a long run once rezzed to get to cover…. don’t rez him!  Kill the guy, then rez.  If it’s a short run he can probably make it.

+  MAG weapon balistics are a little different than other games.  I think the speed of the bullets is a symptom of having 256 player game modes.   It’s not that the bullets are painfully slow, but they do feel slower than a game like, say, COD.  It’s a minor adjustment but its something to get used to.  Most every other shooter is 16 players max, this is 256… so something there has to give.  The grenades also feel a little floaty.  All of this stuff isn’t a big deal and you will get used to… but I figured I would bring it up.

+  Weapon balance!  The weapons got reworked in 2.0 and one thing is for certain….  shotguns are powerful.  I don’t like them, ive never been a shotgun guy, but if you want to know what the most OP weapon in the game is right now that is it.  It has far more range than you would expect.

+  Lying in your spawn with a sniper riffle isn’t really helping.   Well, maybe if you are the only one on your squad doing it, it might help…  but i see a lot of squads with 4 guys sniping and 4 guys on the ground trying to take objectives.  Those 4 guys on the ground get owned.   Sniping is rad, powerful, awesome, sexually pleasing…  but, come on, at least for the initial push get out of the spawn and help move forward.   Or put that shit away completely and only snipe on defense.

+  Once you feel like you have a decent grasp on a game mode and you feel like your squad is completely retarded and has no leadership…  change spawns!  There is no reason to bang your head into a wall because your teammates suck.  Go start where another squad is.  You will only have proximity chat with them, and you wont get the FRAGOs…  but if you know what they’re doing and can help, that’s better than getting redlined with your moron squad the game started you with.

+  Likewise, if your squad is working together and you want to go lone wolf… don’t be surprised if you get voted.  MAG is a teamplay game.  There are opportunities to lone wolf, and for the most part people are cool…  but if you are the thing holding your squad back because you aren’t doing whats being asked, you will get kicked.

+  After buying a Med Kit and a Repair Tool, the next piece you buy is up to you.  I went for a new assault riffle personally and was happy with that choice.   And likewise, you can go in whatever direction you want with your skill points.   Though I will say to give a good look to the “resistances” tree.  Near the end of it are three skills to increase your health points.  Once you get all 3 you have 120 HP.  I can’t tell you how many times ive been sniped and had like 12 HP left and thought “if i only started with 100 hp i would be dead right now.”   That 20 points really is HUGE.  There are also resistance to poison gas and explosion damage.  Those also are 100000% fantastic.

+  All the guns are good.  I already went over how shotguns are OP right now, but don’t be afraid of any of the classes of weapons, 2.0 did a great job of making them all pretty powerful.  The MG is great.  The SMG is great.  The ARs are great.  The snipers are great.  Hell even pulling out your hand gun is nice.

+  It is best to think of this game like a MMO like World of Warcraft more so than a competitive shooter like Halo.  The game is designed in a way that taking the time to level will get you markedly better equipment, including armor, and weapons, and more HP, and you will become more powerful.  This makes starting off in the game very daunting but it makes the payoff that much greater.  Once you finally get up in level and get enough CP to equip your guy with some nice toys you will be able to exact the revenge on all the fools who smoked you while you were leveling.  And as you get higher up and you understand the intricacies of each mode you will get to be a commander and do cool ass shit like call in a mortar strike on top of the enemy as they try to take a burnoff tower.   It’s a great feeling.   The game rewards skill, strategy and time put in.  Usually a game will pick one of those things… maybe two at most.  This is what sets MAG apart.   So it may make you angry at first, but don’t let it scare you off.   Levels 1-20 I was sporting a .35 KDR… the worst i can remember having in any game ever.   Now, at level 50, im averaging a 1:1 and have worked my crappy numbers up to a .65 or so.   It will be a long crawl but eventually my overall will be a 1:1   then a 1.5:1 and so on.  It’s all part of the process

+  All of that KDR talk I just spewed… ignore it.  MAG is an objective based game and don’t let your precious stats get in the way of that.   Now, of course, the best MAG players will be amazing killers, rezzers, repairers and sing you a ballad…  but the rest of us, we need to pick and choose what we do.   I personally like to push objectives.   I’m not good at sitting back and collecting kills.   I want to run in there, get a kill, put down a charge, get killed, respawn, sprint back, rinse repeat.   I want to be on my stomach with my repair gun out and notice a red dot moving in and jump up and switch to my AR and pop the dude in the face and then lay back down and continue repairing.   The problem is that objective pushers die.  It’s what we do.  People come up behind me and stab me right in the ass while i repair.   Guys pop out with shotguns and shoot my face off as I rush the objective.  So at the end of the day, my KDR won’t be as great as the L33t, but I sure do a lot to help the team.  But, of course, being great at every phase will make you all the better.

+  Don’t be afraid to die.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Just make sure that you are learning along the way.   I know that sounds a bit melodramatic, but the complexity of MAG is a bit daunting, so you will need to die and fuck up to learn.  Don’t let that drive you nuts.  If you do you will love this game.  I promise.

Newb tips in the key of MOVE:

+  You are learning a new, newb-unfriendly game, and you are playing a shooter for the first time ever (unless you’re wii-tastic) with a motion controller.  You’re going to die.  You’re going to spin around and stare at the ground and then the sky and then the ground.   You’re gonna change weapons at the wrong time.  I have equated all of this on our podcast to when I was told to use a mouse with PC shooters.   Wolfenstein and Doom 1 I used the arrow keys and spacebar to shoot.  Then I was playing Duke Nukem 3d and Doom 2 and someone said “use the mouse, it’s way better!”   I tried it and thought they were out of their fucking minds.  It was so much harder than using the arrow keys!  It felt so completely wrong.   But I stuck with it, and then it clicked, and I knew exactly why they wanted me to learn it.   Now the idea of using the arrow keys seems hysterical. The Move isn’t *that big* of a jump over analog sticks, but once you get over the goofy feeling learning curve you will absolutely love it.  And then it’s hard to go back.  I keep trying to mess around with the KZ3 beta (which will support Move eventually, but doesn’t yet) and it just feels so imprecise with the sticks.   Just like the game itself, I implore you to stick with the Move.  It won’t let you down.

+  Study that video from iWaggle. Go back and watch it after you’ve played for 5 hours.  It will help you SOOOOO MUCH in tweaking the settings to your liking.

+  Think of the move more as a mouse without table than a handgun you are pointing at the screen.   It’s all about very subtle movements, like a mouse, that are very precise.  You don’t want to be sitting there with your arm out like you’re sticking up a liquor store.

+  As far as I can tell the majority of the weapon skills in the weapon trees don’t have much effect on the Move.   The quicker reloading and quicker rate of fire do, of course, but stuff like “reduces recoil” don’t really seem to have any effect.   It’s just the way they programmed the move into the game, I think they figured that your arm would be its own recoil and scope wander that they didn’t make them do it on their own.    So the added benefit for us is that you can use those points for other things.   Is that fair?  Not really, but as a Move user im not really complaining 🙂

+  I said it earlier but its worth repeating… when you make the knifing motion, do it very slightly and controlled.   I think it’s just human nature to just making giant knifing motions when a guy gets close to you….  but since the move is also your view, doing that will mean you’re staring at a spinning sky and missing completely.   Short and quick   BLADOW!

+  Scopes are weird.  He covers it in the iWaggle video.  It’s not the controller, its the way they programmed it.  I got used to it…  but i eventually just decided I liked the red dot better anyway.  Hopefully they will fix this.   Though i know of a bunch of snipers that own with the Move….  mostly thanks to how precise it is.

+  This article is now 5500+ words.  Holy crap.

Enjoy.  If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments or on twitter.  If you want to join me, Im on SVER (I didn’t know at the time that i was being a front runner!) and my name is famousmortimer.   I have a clan of me and Billy called (FYI).

And just in case you haven’t clicked the freaking link yet, here is that iWaggle video embedded.  Lazy bastards.

Need For Speed Shift – A photo-essay in the key of iPhone

Sometime this weekend or early next week our latest podcast should be out where I go insane about how much I am loving Need for Speed: Shift.   Top to bottom it is a very fun and addicting game.   It features a number of cars and one of them happens to be the Honda S2000.   As luck would have it, I am spending a week in Connecticut with my parents and my father owns said car.   The day I snapped the shots it was raining out, so I had to take crappy pictures in the garage…  but here are some comparison shots for you bored internet surfers.

I know it's a terrible shot... closed garage, light through the window.  Anywho, here's the real car.

I know it's a terrible shot... closed garage, light through the window. Anywho, here's the real car.

Here is the car in game.   As you can see it's a hard top, unline my father's convertible, but they got the angles of the car down just about perfectly.

Here is the car in game. As you can see it's a hard top, unlike my father's convertible, but they got the angles of the car down just about perfectly.

Here is a view from where your head would be, if you were my father.

Here is a view from where your head would be, if you were my father.

And here is the cockpit view in game.  It's not only a ton of fun to use but it's 100% playable.

And here is the cockpit view in game. It's not only a ton of fun to use but it's 100% playable.

One of my main complaints about this game, and most PS3 games, is the lack of custom soundtracks.   Here is a very simple and reasonably priced work around.

Step 1.  Buy an iPhone.

Step 2.  Put music on it.

Step 3.  You might as well play some games on it also since it’s an awesome little device.  You can look at porn also if you want to.

Step 4:  Put head phones on:

I need a haircut.

Step 5:  Buy the Turtle Beach Earforce P21 gaming headphones/headset.   Put it’s giant cup over your iPhone headphones.

The iPhone headphones went through the drier if you are wondering why the wire is so fucked.

Step 6:  Enjoy the awesomeness of custom soundtracks for the low, low additional price of $475 (plus a 2 year contract with the absolutely wonderful AT+T).

The drugs help.  A lot.

The drugs help. A lot.

New Editor

Hello fellow nerds.  I am a new Editor here on the site.  I am really excited about being here and getting new information to all of you.  You will see me posting a bunch of reviews in the coming weeks as well as some Hands On impressions.  Next week I am going to a Convention in Kansas City Missouri so I will be posting a bunch of Hands On impressions on some of the cool new games coming out.  Possibly pictures?  Who knows?

Here is some background on my gaming:

  • HUGE SOCOM fan
  • Resident Evil is my favorite single player franchise.  I own all of them on multiple systems.  I can beat RE DS in 58 minutes.  haha.
  • I bought the Xbox 360 and Wii on launch day…..  PS3 I bought a month after launch.
  • I currently own a Xbox 360 Limited Edition Resident Evil Elite, PS3 60 GB, PS3 80 GB, Wii, DS, PSP, Game Gear, Dreamcast, and N64.

I am looking forward to read peoples comments in the coming weeks!

-Matt

KILLZONE 2 review – A week in Helghan

I like playing shooters, but I try to not look at them. Halo is too shiny and colorful with art direction that mixes G.I. Joe with Battle Beasts. Gears of War seems to take design tips from Iron Maiden album covers. And Call of Duty lays down realism when all I want is a space gun.

Enter KILLZONE 2.

I love this game’s look: the red-eyed fascists with their blue lightning magic. The burgendy skies full of smoke and particles. The orange sands. The sizeable insects. This game’s imagery speaks to me, and the Helghast architecture is familiar, yet alien enough to evoke an alternate reality. Killzone 2 is “Ice cold!” And you move through large areas like your limbs were bloody frozen. But cool characters walk slow, you dig?

The bullet goes between the glowing red spots.

The bullet goes between the glowing red spots.

As much as I like shooters, I’m nowhere near being interested enough to argue their mechanics. Enemies fall when you shoot in their direction. Headshots make them fall faster. And you can take cover and regenerate your health. That’s it, I’m tapped. Now onto the part I enjoy analyzing.  

You belong to the world Vekta, and Vekta is taking the war to Helghan. Killzone 2’s story is not irrelevant. It’s good… for a game story. If gameplay is king, then story is the throne. It must be comfortable and without rough edges that force you out. Killzone 2  is a leather recliner with a cup holder. But only a forty bottle fits into the cupholder–that part is your brash-talking squadmates. The story’s pace is the part that reclines, easing you from point to point with believable progression. When you learn of the Helghast’s wild card, you get thrust into more fantastical locations. It all makes sense.

I just wish your character Sev had more of a presence. Your squadmates blab on like the guy who greets you on the phone at Gamestop, but Sev’s like that old aunt in the chair who chimes in every four hours. And I’m not the type of gamer who takes on the persona I’m playing as. Though when Sev does emote, he is rather likeable. I wish the same could be said about your foul-mouthed peers. I have neighbors, assholes.

Man this story's good!

Man this story's good!

But the coolest thing, better than Sev’s hair or Rico’s ‘tude, is the fact that you and your countrymen are the invaders. Defending is so played out. Along your invasion you’ll hear the Helghan Emperor slag you off for raping and pillaging his world. It’s propaganda, sure. But he had me for a second. The game does well in keeping the two worlds’ past ambiguous, and it showcases brutality on both sides. So really, you never know who’s in the right. That’s a good thing.

But the campaign is only so long (8-10 hours). I played Killzone 2’s multiplayer for a week. I do best with a shotgun in hallways. And other players thank me when I heal them. That’s it, I’m tapped. The one thing I’ll say about it, though: I always feel the bonuses (better guns, rad character classes) are growing at an equal rate to my skill level. Balance is a commodity in multiplayer gaming, and Killzone 2 is California circa 1849.  

From little details like Helghan chatter to big productions like the few but satisfying boss battles, this game is spit polished. Sony made sure of it with their dollars. So follow suit and give Guerrilla Games your cash. Did you know they’re based in Amsterdam? I was wondering what that Helghan meant when he shouted, “smoke the fat one first.”

Watchmen: The end is Nigh

rorschache

There have been many comic book games in recent years. Some were good, most were bad. Who could forget the amazing times we had with winners like Superman or the wonderful Spiderman 3 movie game. These games were so terrible, that even the most devoted achievement/trophy whores couldn’t finish more than 20 minutes. With this in mind, I think many of the mainstream reviewers out there forget how low the bar has been set. I assure you its low, very low. Oddly enough, with a word of caution and required explanation, I believe that I liked this Watchman game. *fanboys leave site* For those of you still here, I think a small elaboration on that statement is required.

Let me start by saying that I am new to the Watchmen series. All of my Watchmen knowledge has been accumulated and absorbed in the last month.  In “Watchmen: The End is Nigh” you play as either Rorschach or Night Owl. Since neither of these two are all that different, I of course chose Rorschach as he is psychotic and more violent than Night Owl. The story is fairly simple. A bad guy is out and about. You must, through a night of face smashing, stop and retrieve him. There are more details but they really don’t matter. This is really a beat-em up at heart. There is a series of combos and finishers, but really, one just frolics about busting heads and literally punching dudes in the throat. Awesome.

Graphically, the game looks great. Simply put, it may be the best looking downloadable game we as gamers have seen this generation. There is a solid frame rate and a solid look of polish. The engine is nice, but don’t think Killzone or Drake’s Fortune are nervous. If you find yourself to be a graphics chimp, than it is doubtful you can bitch much here. You will most likely find your attention pulled from looks to sound when Blotman speaks. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Christian Bale was voicing this role. You know, that really odd, growly nonsense from the Dark Knight. The whole game is spent listening to that voice comment on the obvious. It’s not a deal breaker though.

I found the fighting to be fun. The finishers and brute force were strangely satisfying. Playing a deranged Rorschach never quite seems to get old. Seriously though, FINISHERS!!! Starts with a shot to the testicles, followed by two sharp elbows to the back of the spine, and finishes with an amazing karate chop to the Adam’s Apple. True American grit people. I received the trophy for 200 finishing moves and I believe I could watch that for another 600. There are also buckets of blood spewing from plenty of enemies and a whole list of other elaborate finishers using bare hands to steam pipes. That being said, there really isn’t much variance in enemies. I think for the entirety of the game, there are maybe five or 6 different enemies with a few cops sprinkled in. That’s right, punching cops in the throat. At the end of the sixth and final level, there is a single boss battle. Ehhh, at least there was one. The game is pretty easy though. I didn’t die until the end of the second chapter. This is where the button mashing no longer works and one actually has to begin using combos, avoiding attacks and punishing with counter attacks. When a swarm of 12 men approach, you cannot finish by simply pressing punch over and over. Keep in mind that this is a good thing. Oh, why the hell can’t I run?

This game could be much, much more. Someone out there could have really made an amazing Watchmen game. AN FPS/RPG/MMO/RACING SIM with dog killing minigames and shooting Mr. Manhattan in his giant blue balls. Someone could have sold millions. Someone didn’t though. My opinion is at $20, who cares. I spent $25 on a round of shots last Friday night. Those I enjoyed for about 7 seconds with a few extra belching recalls. I have heard a bunch of bitching when it comes to the cost to time ratio of this game. My advice is to think about all of the random junk an average American throws money away on. How much would it cost a person to go see this movie? For me and the girlfriend, this would be at least a $30 night. I paid $20 for a night of creatively beating street goons. Neh, a night spent slaughtering street scum. I have no regrets. That said I doubt I will play this much more. I might rip through with the owl some drunken night when my brother is in town, but it’s doubtful as he has a real love for the strippers. This doesn’t really bother me. I think that I have a pile of at least ten, $60 games that I not only haven’t finished, but maybe played each for a couple of hours. Besides, its downloadable so at least I didn’t waste gas or have to speak with those Nazi’s at Best Buy.

When the idea of downloadable console games was first introduced to me, this is pretty close to what I expected. Well, besides the $20 price tag. I really just want a ten or fifteen dollar game that is great looking and can give me 3 or 4 hours of entertainment. That is all that I expected. People have been just ruthless towards this game. Why are people complaining so much about the environments? THIS IS ONE NIGHT IN THE LIFE OF THESE TWO “HEROES.” This isn’t a branching MMORPG that represents the whole of their lives or something. This is Rorschach’s Friday night. WTF? People have also knocked on the cut scenes between levels. I really loved the comic cut scenes. It was a fresh change compared to most games. Usually, there is an amazing looking pre rendered scene that serves only to remind me how shitty the game looks in comparison. *coughs, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, coughs* The callback to the comic was a nice touch for me.

In the end, this game isn’t for everyone. If you want an experience as special as the comic was to you 20 years ago, this isn’t it. It’s fairly bland and lacks those, “Oh my sweet Lord,” moments. There is nothing ground breaking or anything that innovative. But, it works. I enjoyed playing it. I took pleasure in punishing the street rats. I never found myself angry about spending the $20. I would say if you are a modest Watchmen fan though, just wait for a sale or split it with a buddy on the PSN.

Giant blue balls out of 7

Killzone 2 invades the PS3 to mixed fanfare

There is no denying that Killzone 2 is the big budget, space marine  shooter that the PS3 needed as an answer to the 360’s Halo and Gears of War franchises.   And on that front, just in my short playtime, it has delivered.   The problem is that it may be just a little bit too late.   I was pretty sick of space marines and blown up cities a year ago…  by now I am really, really sick of them.   But KZ2, at least, has the best looking space marines and blown up cities around.   

In general I think the gaming world is going to be very pleased with this game.   As gamers we are used to ideas getting repeated and repeated and repeated.  I mean how many World War II shooters have we all played?  10,000?  Possibly higher.   And this generation thus far has been defined by the space marine battling some bad guys on their turf…  which KZ2 probably does the best.   So if you aren’t completely sick of the concept yet, the game is wonderful.

It is not without problems, however.   And it’s also not without hordes of people on the internet bitching.   The official Killzone message boards are filled with tons and tons of posts complaining about how “heavy” the controls feel.   I do agree with them, it almost feels as if there is lag even when playing offline.  The game isn’t nearly as responsive as one would like.   It seems they did this on purpose, to give your movements a feeling of momentum, so maybe we will all adjust and like it.  But for now it feels a little off.   

The multiplayer is done well and has the same sort of hooks in it that make the COD franchise so addictive online.   You get experience for killing guys, you then open new abilities and classes as you get more and more experience.   The game uses a class system more akin to Team Fortress than it is to COD.   Including a “spy” like class that can dress up like the other team.   The lack of a party system is a bummer, but finding friends and getting together isn’t nearly as hard as it is in a game like Socom: Confrontation.

The good news for us, and for any of you reading this site, is that we will have a guest reviewer writing up his take on the game in the coming days.   He has had the game since earlier this week and is thankfully willing to share his thoughts with us.   He is a b-list videogame celebrity that some of you may know, though when I said that to him he retorted “Ha.  More like ZZ list.”   Anyway, fans of podcasts and neogaf (specifically the photoshop thread where folks made their own videogame ads) will know of him…  and we are psyched to have him come aboard to write up this review.   It will be our first non-PSN review also, so that’s exciting.    I am also trying to talk him into doing the Echochrome review, because I know it’s a great game but I just don’t have fun playing it. I know he did, so I wanted to get that perspective on there (and then will add my 2 cents as to why it didn’t work for me).  

Anyway, back to pretending I’m not sick of being a space marine and killing some guys in spooky masks.   Hopefully I will run into some of you on the online battlefield.