IGN just published a review of the recently released PSN/XBLA port of Dreamcast classic Crazy Taxi. As a dedicated Dreamcast fan, I was ecstatic to read that SEGA was planning a re-release of popular Dreamcast titles (Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi), but it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that Sega’s just looking to quickly cash in on the nostalgia so many of their fans feel for these titles. I think IGN hit it right on the nose when they stated that “SEGA didn’t have any problems overcharging for this remake, but it didn’t want to spend any money to re-up the licensing agreement for the soundtrack.” For me, no Offspring in my Crazy Taxi is an absolute deal breaker.
Parting is such sweet sorrow: Bungie has made the claim that they weren’t working on another Halo title ever since Combat Evolved hit stores in 2001, nine years and one day ago. Before, there was never any real reason to believe them. Bungie was a property of Microsoft and Halo was simply too lucrative a franchise for Microsoft to let them focus on anything else. As long as the Halo games kept selling, fans knew that there was always another Bungie-made Halo title around the corner. On October 1, 2007, six days after Halo 3’s release, that changed when Bungie announced their independence from Microsoft while leaving the Halo intellectual property behind at Microsoft and its newly created 343 Industries industries (Wikipedia). As a final farewell to the franchise that made Bungie a household name, Halo: Reach was developed.
So is Reach any good? In a word, Reach is excellent. Assuming you’re a Halo, FPS, multiplayer, and/or science fiction fan, there’s plenty of reasons to love this game. Virtually everything that you’ve come to expect from Halo is done here better than it’s ever been done before. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, I’d still highly recommend that you give the game a try just to see what it’s all about. This is a console shooter done right.
What did they get right with Reach? Halo: Reach takes a few steps back from Halo 3 towards Halo: Combat Evolved, and that’s largely a good thing. While dual-wielding (a mechanism that Bungie pioneered on consoles) has completely disappeared, health packs and falling damage have returned. That sounds terrible in writing, but it’s exactly the kind of strategic switch up that this latest Halo title needed. As you no doubt have heard, Bungie added another level of strategy to the game in the form of armor abilities. Throughout the game’s single and multiplayer modes, your SPARTAN will be sprinting, jet-packing, and armor locking his or her way to victory. That’s right, your SPARTAN’s gender is entirely up to you this time around, and it’s one of the most welcome additions they’ve made to the game. I hope it’s truly a sign of the times that AAA titles like Reach have started to acknowledge the presence of female gamers.
Reach‘s campaign is the most challenging and one of the most intriguing that Bungie has ever crafted. Halo campaigns have traditionally felt very challenging when played on Legendary, and while Reach is certainly no exception, the pacing of the campaign is better than ever before. While playing solo through the game, I ran into a handful of what I like to call “respawn pits,” points in the game where one simply dies and response dozens of times before finally progressing, but I never felt as if I was stuck in an impossible situation. Bungie’s enemy AI is legendary, and one simply needs to outsmart the computer in order to progress. When played in co-op, the campaign gets even more difficult relative to the number of human players in the game ala Diablo 2. This feature alone makes Reach a more challenging experience than any of its predecessors.
Bungie’s often been criticized for the convoluted storyline of the Halo series, and while I feel like Bungie gets a little better at storytelling with each new game they release, Reach’s story isn’t too radical a departure from Bungie’s traditional fare. That said, if you’re into the Halo mythology, there’s a ton of good content added to the universe with this title. I’ve always felt that Bungie has done a masterful job at building a living and breathing, while not too fantastical science fiction universe. The hidden datapad side objectives make a satisfying reward for the story-craving player exploring the game’s every hidden nook and cranny, and the primary character-driven storyline is every bit as entertaining as past titles in the series, and to those of us who’ve been with Halo since the beginning, rest assured; there’s plenty of fan service in Reach.
What about the multiplayer? That’s where Halo really shines, right? I’ve never met a fan of Halo who exclusively played the single player campaigns, but I have met many who bought the games just for the intense online multiplayer action. Reach has improved upon just about everything that made the multiplayer of the last three titles so intense. At the beginning of most matches, you’ll be picking out one from a list of various equipment load-outs. Your choice will determine the weapons and armor abilities that you respawn with. It’s a subtle change of pace from past games, but a significant enough of one to make the gameplay feel fresh.
The King of the Hill, Slayer, Territories, Oddball, and Capture the Flag game modes that fans have come to love make their glorious return, as does the highly addictive firefight mode first introduced in ODST. New to the ring are Headhunter and Invasion. Headhunter’s a frantic, deathmatch-meets-objective game mode that requires you to collect the skulls of your fallen opponents and hold onto them long enough to reach a dynamic drop-off point. Invasion feels a lot like Halo meets Battlefield and has become a personal favorite. We’re talking objective-based gameplay with 8 man teams of elites versus SPARTANS in some of the biggest maps Halo players have seen to date.
I remember the early days of online gaming. One practically spent more time scouring the game servers looking for a good match than he or she did actually playing the game (see the original Gears of War). Halo 2 changed all that. Reach has further improved on the model that Bungie pioneered by offering you the option to force the matchmaking service to select games based on connection quality, player chattiness, and preferred style of play (i.e. “lone wolf”). The matchmaking service can still take a couple of minutes to find a suitable game, but the matches have never been of such a high quality. And while local games are mostly a thing of the past, it’s worth noting here that Bungie have made it easier than ever to get a LAN party thumping.
Where did they screw up? Bungie fans have rightly come to expect a mirror-sheen polish on the company’s launched titles. Make no mistake, Halo: Reach is as high quality as they come, but it’s obvious that the game is flexing the Xbox 360s aging muscles. Remember how gorgeous Halo 2 looked on the Xbox? Remember the toll the game took on the hardware? Reach doesn’t suffer from the infamous texture popping of its older brother, but you will notice that when the action gets most intense, the frame rate might, I said might, stutter. The frame rate has only cost me my life on one or two occasions, but it was undeniably frustrating. Also, while I considered the story to be every bit as exciting and intriguing as its predecessors, those who aren’t fans of the franchise’s story aren’t likely going to find anything here worth changing their minds. In custom multiplayer games, while Bungie’s done a great job at improving Forge (hello Forgeworld!) and the game’s playback feature, the game type customization seems more limited than before. My friends and I were excited to create some Juggernaut-based game types before learning that we simply couldn’t manipulate the game type the way we were hoping to.
What’s my non-gaming spouse going to think? For many married gamers, I think Halo’s become a lot like poker. It’s darn hard to get my wife to play with me, but she doesn’t mind that I occasionally get together with the guys for some pistol-poppin’ action. What’s great about Reach is that a multiplayer match isn’t likely to go past 10 minutes online. It’s the perfect type of game to play in the margins of your schedule. If you’re wife or husband doesn’t like “killing games” (as my wife describes them), he or she probably isn’t going to like playing Halo: Reach, but even with a married student’s schedule, I was still able to beat the campaign in roughly one month while enjoying the multiplayer thoroughly.
Well Black Ops is out now, which one should I buy?As you know, I still haven’t played Black Ops, but I’d suggest you play them both and see for yourself if you have the time. If you’re a married gamer like me with limited time and money, however, that’s probably not an option. In that case, I say you look at the precedent set by previous games in each franchise. If you’ve traditionally been more of a Halo guy or girl, I’d stick to Reach. It might be your last chance to play a truly phenomenal Halo title from the people who invented the franchise. If you’re prefer Call of Duty’s style, I’d stick to Black Ops.
Halo’s Future: For now, at least, Bungie are done with Halo. They put all doubts to rest when they announced a partnership with Activision to launch an as-of-yet unknown original IP (Kotaku). The fate of the Halo franchise now rests firmly in the hands of 343 Industries who have already begun expanding the Halo universe beyond its native medium. It’s hard to imagine that any mainstream Halo title developed by a group other than Bungie will ever be able to live up to the lofty standards that fans have come to expect of the franchise, and I think that Microsoft is more aware of that fact than anyone. If the software giant treats the property with the care it deserves, there’s no doubt that they’ll find there’s plenty of milk left in this cash cow. I for one would gladly shell out $60 for an opportunity to continue Master Chief’s saga and discover what that mysterious planet was really all about. But I wonder, will it ever feel right booting a game of Halo without first seeing Bungie’s logo?
My very first review written after playing Halo: Reach’s entire single-player campaign on Legendary and investing 24+ hours into the game’s multiplayer, including one massive LAN party. The game (standard edition) was purchased by and for me. This review was in no way influenced by the direction of Bungie, Microsoft, or any other party. Article image courtesy of Bungie.net.
IGN just reported that Yu Suzuki, famed creator of the Virtua Fighter and Shenmue franchises, is banking on the success of upcoming social network game, Shenmue City, to garner support for Shenmue 3. Although critics and gamers alike are often divided on the actual quality of the Shenmue games, few can deny the influence the game has had in shaping the modern gaming experience. Shenmue launched in the states in November, 2000 and provided players with an unprecedented level of freedom, the likes of which had never before been seen a gaming console. I can still remember the hours I spent just looking around Ryu’s house, meticulously opening every drawer and cabinet.
Should Shenmue 3 become a reality, fans will finally receive the resolution to Shenmue 2‘sinfamous cliff-hanger ending they’ve been waiting nearly a decade for. Keep your fingers crossed Sega fans! Now I just need to decide whether or not I’d prefer the next game launch with the endearingly awful voice-acting of the original.
I had originally intended to name my top 25 favorite games of all time in succession starting with #25 and ending with what I consider to be the greatest game of all time. However, As I started formulating the list in my head, I realized the hypocrisy of numerically ranking my favorite games. I’ve often preached about the fallacy of contrasting dissimilar games with one another. For example, by what criteria does one judge the Secret of Monkey Island to be an inferior experience to Super Metroid? I’ve thus decided simply to share – in no particular order – what I think are the greatest games ever made. And the first?
Quest for Glory IV – Shadows of Darkness
Never before – and I’d wager never again – have I found such a gem of a game in the bargain software bin. Truth be told, it I wasn’t even I who found it. My father came home from the store (Walmart, I believe) one day and presented me with a rather plain, white PC game box. Across the front of the box were stamped the words “Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness.” I have no doubt now that my father bought the game solely because of its pretty, almost minimalistic packaging.
At 9 years old, I was not unfamiliar with adventure games. My family had often collaborated on titles such as Myst, the Monkey Island series, King’s Quest, and the Legend of Kyrandia. Even still, I had never heard of the Quest for Glory series before and it would be months before I realized that the game I had grown to love was even a part of a greater collection. In my naïveté, Shadows of Darkness was a standalone game featuring a heroic protagonist with a mysterious past. My ignorance only contributed to the intrigue of the game. Like one of the residents of Mordavia, I learned about the Prince of Shapier’s past heroic exploits as I progressed through the game; all the while, proving myself a hero once more and, paradoxically, for the very first time.
In Shadows of Darkness, I had greater control over the story than I had ever before been allowed in a game. I chose the hero’s profession, his skills, and I chose his actions. More importantly, I decided the hero’s actions, and my decisions felt as if they had true, in-game consequences. In fact, never before had I entered into a virtual world that felt so alive. The cast of characters were fully voiced, and the game itself was beautifully narrated by none other than John Rhys-Davies of Indiana Jones fame. Each character had his or her own story to tell – often over the course of multiple play-throughs – and their stories often lead to optional side-quests. By today’s standards, many of these side-quests might seem arbitrary, but at the time, they demonstrated to this gamer how the true hero is the one who’s not afraid to take on the little tasks: reuniting old men with deceased wives and wives with their estranged husbands. Solving the depressed Mordavians’ problems one by one felt good, and I wanted to solve them all.
I should add here before going any farther that I was fortunate to have played the game under the best circumstances. I installed the game via CD-ROM onto my Windows 3.1 PC. I’d later learn that the original release of the game was rushed through development in order to meet a holiday release date and suffered drastically because of the shortened development time. The original game was plagued with glitches and game-breaking bugs. In later years, I’d see how fragile QFGIV was firsthand when I attempted to play it on a Pentium 2 machine. To this date, Error 52 haunts me. The fact that so many persistent fans were willing to experiment with and share glitch workarounds is a testament to its underlying, indefinable quality.
What Quest for Glory IV did best was atmosphere. Everything about Mordavia from the swamp to the dilapidated guild hall whispered of a mysterious sadness. Each character class opened up a little more of the game’s mysteries. Adding to the game’s mystique were the rumors that I picked up from a friend at school of a hidden character class playable only by those who had completed at least one of the first three games in the series. When at long last I imported my first Paladin into the game, it was like playing it for the first time.
When I had finally thwarted the vampire Ad Avis’ evil plans and saved the world from certain doom at the hands of the demon Avoozl, I bitter-sweet calm set over me. I felt terribly sad to have come to the end of such a fantastical adventure, but truly happy to have set so many wrongs right with Mordavia’s denizens. Shadows of Darkness gave me the opportunity to feel like a real hero, and I would later sink dozens of hours into this game and the other 4 in the series trying to recapture that feeling. Few games have ever touched me the way Shadows of Darkness did, and for that reason, it remains today as one of my all-time favorites.
The Quest for Glory – originally Hero’s Quest – series was the brain child of wife and husband Lori and Corey Cole developed by Sierra studios. Five years after the release of QFGIV, the series would finally see the release of its conclusion, Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire. The lackluster sales of the game would eventually lead to the termination of the Coles’ Yosemite Studios. Eventually, Sierra’s properties would be absorbed by entertainment giant Vivendi before finally resting with Activision Blizzard.
Okay, so it’s only been out for a day now, but as any hardcore gamer knows, waiting even just an hour past a new title’s launch date is a relative eternity. After anxiously anticipating a new major release for months, maybe even years, waiting any additional time past the release date is agony. So what’s keeping me from Black Ops? Priorities, my friends.
For the record, I was among the first of my friends (all of us gamers to the core) to show any interest in the original Modern Warfare. We had all enjoyed COD2, but Gears of War and the impending release of Halo 3 demanded all of our attention. Once MW finally hit stores, however, its popularity quickly rocketed. The Halo vs. MW debates started up and before long, Modern Warfare was the only game we’d play on Live.
I’ve always hated the Halo/COD fanboy division. Both series are truly epic and groundbreaking in their own rights. Call of Duty has always had a knack for phenomenal, realistic cinematic moments (COD4’s bridge scene, for instance), while Halo brought the console FPS to the front of the industry and really set the groundwork for Call of Duty’s tremendous success. What’s more, when one views the games within the context of their respective genre, they’re drastically different. Halo’s gameplay seems more elegant, COD’s rawer and more twitchy, but in a good way.
Regardless of my love for both series, I had to draw a line in the sand eventually. Last fall was my first as a married man. As we all know, the final quarter of the year is generally the biggest in the gaming world. For the first time in my life, I had to set a hard and fast budget for my favorite hobby. I opted for three titles: Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age (gotta love that BioWare!), and I ultimately chose Halo:ODST over MW2. Yes, I realized even then that ODST was more of an expansion to Halo 3 than a true sequel/prequel, but that didn’t deter me. I realized then that the Halo franchise will always hold a high place in this geek’s heart. To this day, I have yet to play MW2, but I’ve never regretted my choice.
This year, Reach sat atop my gaming priority list. I eventually had to tighten my budget even further than I had anticipated to cover tuition fees. Yes, not only am I a married gamer, I’m a married, student gamer – the poorest type of gamer of all. I first downgraded my Legendary edition of Reach to the collector’s edition, and then, with a heavy heart, to the regular edition. The good news, Halo:Reach hasn’t disappointed (expect a full review in the near future). The bad, neither did Black Ops.
Alright, not “bad news,” per se, but seeing how great the game is makes me long to play it. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed for Christmas . . .
Image used courtesy of Call of Duty.com. Again, as I’m still very new to the blog scene, I’m not sure of the legalities and etiquette of borrowing images from tertiary sources. That said, I will always make an effort to cite my sources.
Surely Sonic the Hedgehog must have his own opinions on video game critics
New video games tend to launch on Tuesdays. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it’s become a fact of life here in the US. Consequently, I look forward to reading the reviews of all my most anticipated games each Tuesday morning (provided some embargo prevented the reviews from being launched early). I look forward to reading them so fervently, that I actually feel irritated when the review I’m looking for hasn’t yet been posted on my favorite websites. “How do I know if it’s worth checking out?” I might ask myself. The obvious response to such a question is simply to play the game. Well, let me take you back a few years.
On September 9, 1999, the Sega Dreamcast launched. The day also marks a turning point in my life regarding the means through which I developed my interests, a shift from the passive absorption of my childhood to the active drive for self-education that I maintain into adulthood. In my childhood, I often held subscriptions to gaming magazines (thank you Gamepro!), but it was far from uncommon for me to rent a game at the local Blockbuster or Hastings without any additional information than was presented on the box cover. The Dreamcast was different.
I had always been a Sega fan, and after some good years playing with my Saturn, I was ecstatic to learn about their new 128-bit console. I actively sought out every piece of information about the Dreamcast that I could get. I discussed Sega news on gaming forums online, I scanned magazine racks at the grocery store, I even wrote Sega asking them for information. In a word, I was researching. Certainly, every true gamer, movie buff, and college student across the world is familiar with this concept. I took pleasure in my research and that naturally propagated more research. Before too long, I was hitting up Gamespot, IGN, and later Kotaku on a bi-daily basis. I soon realized that I couldn’t possibly spare the time to play every game that looked good to me. I needed a filter.
Enter the critical review.
If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that his or her taste in movies is the polar opposite of film critics, I’d be a very rich man. The silly thing about film reviews is that apparently a lot of professional critics are in exactly that state of mind. You end up with the vast majority of critics praising or panning a film and a minority expressing the exact opposite viewpoint. Well, game criticism is largely the same deal. On the upside, it’s far more difficult to see the whole value of the game, good or bad, without first examining and evaluating the parts that make it up (graphics, gameplay, story, originality, etc.). It’s that information, the evaluations of the appealing and unappealing facets of a game, that I look for in a review.
Many of my peers decry the nature of critical video game reviews because they detract from some truly great and under-appreciated games. In my experience, however, game reviews have led me to some truly under-hyped games. Ico is one such title that I would never have experience had it not been for the universal critical praise that surrounded it. Post-SotC, Ico is fondly remembered in the gaming community, but there was a time when I felt like I was the only person who had played it. On the flip side, reviews of steered me away from craptastic titles like Jaws and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) that performed exceptionally well in stores.
I think a lot of gamers rightly condemn the nature of game reviews to reduce the value of a game down to a two digit figure. Penny Arcade wrote a beautiful evaluation of this truth a few years back. At best, those figures should act only at the most basic level, and they need to be taken within the appropriate context, the context you that you can’t find when exclusively consulting Metacritic. Modern gaming critics seem to be growing more and more aware of the frivolity of review scores. Kotaku (although never a culprit of trivial review scores) has completely overhauled their review format and the result is darn impressive.
As a married man, I have less time than ever before to play games. As such, it seems only logical to invest my time in those games worth playing. If only for that reason, I am indebted to the video game critics around the world. They are my guiding light in the increasingly cluttered world of blockbuster gaming releases. Do I take their reviews at face value? Of course not, but I do look to them as one of many means to distinguish the truly unforgettable games from the average.
Image used courtesy of IGN. As I’m still very new to the blog scene, I’m not sure of the legalities and etiquette of borrowing images from tertiary sources. That said, I will always make an effort to cite my sources. Check out their review of Sonic Colors here.
I’ve created this website as a purely experimental project. As I’ve never actually created my own website before, think of this as my training wheels. Unfortunately, my first domain name was not as original as I had originally conceived it to be. If you were looking for www.themarriedgamers.net, you have come to the wrong place. If you weren’t, you should check it out. Those guys over there seem to be working under the same basic concept as I and they really know their stuff. Another, similar site is http://www.marriedgamer.com/. I unfortunately discovered both of them after I had registered my domain and my budget is currently too tight to allow for a second at the moment.
“What is that basic concept?” You might ask. Well, although I have very little experience with blogging, web design, and server management, I do have a great deal of experience with writing (creative rather than journalistic) and gaming. I’m also a married man with a fraction of the game time he once had. At this blog, I’ll be talking about all things gaming within the context of balancing time between my three greatest passions: my wife, writing, and video games.
I’ll probably be taking this whole project rather slowly. I’m working full time for a web hosting company called Nethosting.com (thanks for the free server guys!) and I’m attending school part time (7 hours). That said, if I manage to actually attract any readers, I promise my motivation to write for you will be increased exponentially.
PS – Forgive any oddities you might notice throughout the construction of the site. I’m very, very green at this.