Musings of a Gamer VII
1. Crysis 2
Do you ever find yourself cruising through a game, neither particularly enjoying nor disliking the experience? That's how I felt for the majority of Crysis 2, playing it on auto-pilot. It is a solid and rather pretty shooter, but for the most part it failed to capture my attention. I appreciated the option to tank or stealth my way through the game, and it rarely punishes you for choosing one over the other, but the armoury is rather vanilla as are the generic aliens that are on your scent.
I spent the majority of the game going through the motions. It was easy to play, but I never found myself wanting to stick with it for extended sessions, nor desperate to jump back in to discover what happens next. The final third did kick it up a notch and it started to click, but by that point I was already thinking about what I was going to play next.
Am I glad that I played Crysis 2? Probably. Would I recommend it to an FPS fan? Maybe. I had intended to write a review, but when it came time to jot down some ideas I realised that I could remember almost nothing of the experience, despite only finishing it the day prior. I think that probably tells you everything you need to know about Crysis 2.
2. Team Bondi: Billy no Mates
Developers disappear all the time. Some are sunk by soaring budgets, others by shoddy games and subpar metacritics. Some are bought-out or amalgamated into bigger studios, but precious few are defeated by a success. However, this is the unusual situation that Team Bondi currently finds itself in, being on the outs despite delivering one of the best received and high selling games of the year, LA Noire. It seems that critical acclaim and encouraging sales were not enough to save this deeply troubled developer from being placed into administration.
Continued reports of excessive work practices, unhappy employees and an extended crunch, which had the team working all hours for well over a year, turned Team Bondi into the studio that no major publisher would touch. The poor reputation of the studio's management, in particular founder Brendan McNamara, outweighed their success and it just goes to show that sales aren’t everything. It's also probably not advisable to spend eight years working on one game. Can you imagine how may Call of Duties Activision would have churned-out given that kind of time!
Four months later, and my most disappointing game of 2011 continues to dominate the headlines, when I wish it would just go away. My sympathies go to the employees of Team Bondi who may shortly find themselves out of work, and I hope the fate of this studio serves as a vital lesson to the industry as a whole.
3. This Week I Have Mostly Been Playing...
With Crysis 2 behind me, I was in desperate need of something to fill the week and a half before I head out to Japan. Fortunately, the price of Shadows of the Damned finally came down so I have been able to fit it in. Had I left it any later, it wouldn't have got a look-in this year thanks to the stacked schedule from mid September onwards. Apparently, the continued high price of SOTD, up until last week at least, was due to it already being out of print barely three months after release. Not good news for Grasshopper or EA.
I'm about two hours into what I understand to be a very short game, and its all very Suda 51. I won't go into too much detail, as I'd like to write a review at some point, but its very stylish and isn't afraid to just be a game, despite its shoddy mechanics. Akira Yamaoka's varied soundtrack has been a stand-out thus far and has made the groan-worthy dialogue that much easier to stomach. Demon pubes indeed.
The other game that is bridging the gap between the summer drought and the forthcoming embarrassment of riches is Outland, which I have been dipping into the last fortnight. A two dimensional platformer from Housemarque, the studio behind Super Stardust HD, it borrows elements from a number of different games - most notably the polarity system from Ikaruga. It is visually striking and the boss fights are particularly impressive. Its also rather meaty for a downloadable game; having plugged away at it for some time there is still no end in sight and I'm more than happy to keep on playing.
Could the next Yakuza be in space? No.
4. Yakuza 5
As expected, series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi's recent press conference was all about Yakuza. He has founded a new studio that will work exclusively on the franchise and he spoke about a second PSP spin off, which like its predecessor is unlikely to see the light of day outside of Japan. Of more interest was the news that the wheels are in motion for Yakuza 5. Details were scant, but more information is expected at Tokyo Game Show, the week after next. I'll be sure to keep an eye open for Yakuza 5 and Nagoshi at TGS, who can usually be found strutting across the show floor, sporting a fetching tracksuit and his trademark tan.
It has been confirmed that the drama and feel of the series will be retained, but there have been suggestions that gameplay changes are on the cards. Could this mean a move towards the third person gun-play of Of the End, or perhaps something more drastic? The inclusion of three new playable characters in Yakuza 4, joining series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu, could suggest the focus being taken off Kaz and onto a new generation of hard-men in atrocious suits.
As much as I have enjoyed the regular setting of Kamurocho, it does now feel overly familiar, especially after playing both Yakuza 3 and 4 in the last six months. A second location, along the lines of Okinawa in part 3, would definitely be welcome; within the confines of a fictional Tokyo or perhaps somewhere further afield. We shall see what happens.
5. What Ever Happened to the Xbox 360?
I am an equal opportunities gamer, owning every major home console and portable of the last ten years, as well as plenty of retro hardware. I despise the concept of "fanboyism", and I do not find the need to belittle one machine to big-up another. When it comes to gaming, I have no hidden agendas. I just want to have fun. With that in mind, I have struggled mightily the last year and a half to find a good reason to turn on my Xbox 360, and see nothing on the horizon that will give me cause to boot it up.
My preference for modern, home console gaming is the PS3. If I play a multi-platform title it will always be on Sony's machine. Part of this preference stems from my familiarity with the PlayStation brand, as I have been lining Sony's coffers since 1998 and have become comfortable with the way that they do things. While the 360 controller is perfectly fine, I do prefer the Sony design and using it has become second nature. I find the XMB much easier to navigate than the 360 dashboard; it looks cleaner and everything is exactly where you'd expect it to be. This holds true with the set-up for the PlayStation Network. I also prefer collecting trophies to achievements, and it will be a cold day in hell when I willingly pay for multiplayer.
That being said, I still felt compelled to buy a 360 18 months ago. It was a replacement for my dead, launch-era version, and I bought it for the purpose of playing Mass Effect 2, which at that time was still a 360 exclusive. I have no regrets there, as I adored the game. Since that time I have only played two other 360 titles that I have really enjoyed: Alan Wake and REZ HD. My intention was to keep it for big console exclusives, but these days they are few and far between.
Every year I look for a reason to blow the dust off my 360 and get some use out of it, but with the exception of some XBLA stand-outs, I see no reason to make the effort. It has become somewhat of a hassle to seek out titles that warrant swapping my HDMi cable from PS3 to 360. With Mass Effect 3 now multi-platform, I see nothing to lure me back.
It has been a while since an exclusive line-up has rivalled the PS3. 2011 has, or will, see an unmatched set of Sony exclusives at retail, including Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, Little Big Planet 2, MotorStorm Apocalypse, ICO Collection, Yakuza 4, Infamous 2, Killzone 3 and many more. With the exception of Gears of War 3 and the Halo remake - two series that I don't enjoy, despite my best efforts - I don't see a lot going for the 360 this year. Unless of course you are a Kinect owner and a fan of motion controlled gaming, which I'm not.
I really want to enjoy my 360. I just wish Microsoft would make it easier for me to do so.