Review: Mass Effect

Mass Effect CoverIt took me long enough, but I finally managed to finish off Mass Effect on the Xbox 360. The start of a proposed series of games, but a self-contained story in and of itself, Mass Effect tells the story of Commander Shepherd as he tries to stop a rogue Spectre named Saren from carrying out his evil plans.

Lets get the bad out of the way right now. This game isn’t perfect, there’s some seriously gimped inventory management and a godawful lot of texture popping happening. Sometimes it’ll switch to a scene with a character and they’ll look like they’re made of clay, then *zing* they’re back to normal. It shows up more often than I’d like, and really shows how technologically stretched thin the 360 is as a platform.

All of that aside, Mass Effect is a brilliant cinematic experience. The presentation is top notch, essentially like a 20 hour long movie where you play the protagonist. Combat is relatively simple and accessible. There’s very little tutorials in this game, but things aren’t too tough to figure out. And once you do, combat will probably get pretty easy for you depending on the role you’ve chosen for your character.

RPGs can get pretty tiresome, what with a lot of dialog reading and such, but with Mass Effect this is made more interesting by the fact that the game’s cast speaks to each other instead of forcing you to read a book. And it’s all done in a very cinematic style, again making it feel more like a big movie rather than a game.

The story is at first glance fairly standard fare for a sci-fi, but there’s enough political and military intrigue to separate it from other games of its kind. There’s a lot of depth, especially with all the interpersonal relationships the characters have with one another.

You can blow through the game in around 15 hours or so, I’m guessing, if you focus on the main thrust of the storyline and don’t steamroll through it. There’s a ton of side quests, which I haven’t finished.

I’m definitely going to give this game another run through, maybe trying a different class and completing more of the side quests themselves. All in all, even with the glitches, I highly recommend this.

Finished the Fight

Halo 3 BoxSo I picked up Halo 3 on Tuesday just like half a bazillion other people. Finished the campaign that night. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything for you.

So far my experience with H3 has been well… mostly what I expected it to be. It’s Halo 2 with prettier graphics and some gameplay tweaks, and overall it’s a better multiplayer experience than Halo 2. That’s the main draw, really. Campaign wise it wasn’t short, just easy to finish in a single long sitting if you’re so inclined. 🙂

Multiplayer wise so far it’s a bit tighter of an experience than H2. The addition of Forge for creating your own custom games will no doubt prove to be a great addition, and the theater lets you share your videos and pics with others. -10 points for charging us MS points to store more. Google gives me gigabytes of free space for my email, why can’t Bungie give a few gigs for free when a billion people preordered their game?

Money grubbing for the LOSE.

Really the micropayment crap and marketing blitz for Halo 3 is designed to make you spend tons of cash, when really the normal edition of the game will let you do everything you need to do to enjoy the experience. So stick with that, and you’ll have no regrets about buying this, as long as you’re not looking for a lengthy campaign.

Major Nelson Podcast Ridiculousness

For those who haven’t seen the story yet, check out the story on Kotaku called Major Nelson Mocks Gamers, Undermines Position.

In summary, essentially we have another case of Xbox Live’s Major Nelson teaming up with the simply-named “e” to marginalize player opinions once more. Personally, I’ve had it with the Major Nelson cast. The following is a post that I made no the Major Nelson blog.

“MN: Damage done, to be honest I’ve been listening to your podcast for a long time now and will probably not continue. I’ll still use your site for news of upcoming 360 and Live content of course.

Any time I’ve ever heard e on the podcast the two of you are usually addressing something to do with a Live update, some special bit of content, etc. That’s fine. But when addressing the concerns of Live’s paying customers the two of you frequently come off with a very condescending tone that’ll usually have me stopping listening to it.

I know you’re human, I know you’re trying to inject humor into it, but this kind of thing has been going on for a while now. That is, the marginalizing of the opinion of your consumers. Nobody’s asking that MS and the 360 developers bend over a barrel for every wish that everything be free, only that someone somewhere listens to us telling you that we’d have less of a problem purchasing content digitally if it was priced reasonably when taken in context with the content itself.

The problem is nobody sees that happening when time after time the consumer is given content which is unreasonably priced. It reads like we’re not getting heard, that developers are greedy, and faith is lost.

Anyway, just my opinion that I wanted to share, because I do see the value in the things that you do.”

I’m sure nothing will come of it, that no response will be garnered from Nelson himself, and that the various Xbots out there will flame the bejesus out of it, but oh well. This is just bad community relations, and at the very least he should be aware of how the consumer feels.


Funnily enough, 14 days before my Xbox 360’s product replacement plan through Best Buy is due to expire, my 360 starts doing some weird graphical stuff while playing GRAW2. I reboot to see if it fixes the problem and whammo, get a single red light of doomy doom. Behold, the gallery of shame.

According to some useful debug information, the error could be because of a screwed A/V cable or a failed A/V encoder. I have two A/V sets, one for component and one for VGA. I’ve tried both of them, which worked before the problem, now both show this error. I’m inclined to think it’s a deeper hardware failure.

I’ve been using my 360 through the VGA connection so I can utilize the 1080p resolution on my set, so who knows, maybe running the 360 in a mode it wasn’t originally designed for has cooked the video chipset. At any rate, tomorrow I’ll probably be going to exchange it. Whee!

Review: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

Title: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
Platform: Xbox 360

Trying really hard to break the record for the longest game title, GRAW2 came out this week to a relatively decent amount of fanfare. Sort of. Well there IS a TV trailer which doesn’t even show in-game footage, but lets not go there.

If you’ve played GRAW1, you’ve played GRAW2. The gameplay is nearly identical, with some generally good improvements. Graphically, it’s a pretty large leap above GRAW1, which was pretty interesting in that GRAW1 looked pretty fracking good. Here the shadows and lighting effects are unbelievably good, with a very cinematic quality which immediately sets the mood for you. Things are almost too realistic here, it’s even more of a challenge to spot the enemy which makes the gameplay move at a more strategic pace.

The Cross-Com interface has been improved with some neat enhancements, such as the ability to hold down the RB button to see a full-screen view of the team member or support unit you’ve got selected. You can manually control drones this way, and with squad member in single player it lets you swivel the camera around and issue orders. You could almost stay back away from the action and just coordinate efforts from that view. It’s pretty slick.

Multiplayer has a new co-op campaign to play though, and has a couple of new game types such as Helicopter Hunt, where it’s your squad vs. an onslaught of helicopters. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the later choppers are gunships with missiles. Ow.

Overall though, the multiplayer area of the game is obviously where the development focus was, so if you’re buying this for the single player campaign you’re going to be slightly disappointed. The SP campaign is good, don’t get me wrong, it’s just ridiculously short. GRAW1’s was longer than this, but that being said GRAW2’s is far more cinematic and intense, as well as being easier to manage with all the Cross-Com enhancements. Still, multiplayer is where it’s at here, so if you didn’t enjoy that with the first game then give this one a pass.

You can even change the time of day in the non-co-op matches, so you can play during the day or at night. This means you probably won’t see too much in the way of $20 downloadable content consisting of relit maps, something which is universally considered to be a great big pile of crap.

Otherwise if you even liked GRAW1 in the slightest, this is definitely a great evolution of the game. Well worth trading in the old game for this, since I doubt anyone is going to be playing that anymore.

Rating: 8/10

Wallet Abuse

Well it’s November finally, and we’re in the home stretch leading into Christmas where everyone and everything will try to dig deeply into the wallet. First up apparently is the Xbox 360, with a bunch of really nifty releases coming out this month including Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas. Having played a ton of Splinter Cell: Double Agent, I have to say that I now look forward to practically anything Ubisoft is set to release. These guys really know what they’re doing on the platform.

Back playing EVE with some regularity again. It’s good to be back in the nether regions of the game, making money and acquiring some “phat lewt”. With all the changes coming in Kali it’s tough to decide on what skills to train, but thankfully my character’s got the prerequisites for most of the new content already trained up.

With the EVE Fanfest right around the corner, I’m sure some tasty bits of information will trickle out from attending folks about where the game is headed. If it’s anything like the last couple of fanfests, the information should be very tasty indeed, for fans of the game.

BSG2.5 and TDU

Ahh, acronyms…

Yesterday saw the release of the second half of season two of Battlestar Galactica, which has to be the most absurd way to release a season of a television show. Many who know me know that I think Battlestar Galactica (the new series) is possibly the best television show done by man, and the second half of season two does not disappoint.

While I was there at Best Buy, I decided to pick up Test Drive Unlimited for the 360. The demos really do not do this game justice, as many of my friends have claimed. It’s a total blast to be able to have free-for-all access to the entire collection of Hawaii roadways presented by this game. This is like a guy’s Pokemon in a sense, where the “gotta catch em all” phrase can be applied to the many vehicles the game lets you buy and race.

The free roaming nature of the game is the one thing Project Gotham Racing 3 lacks. For all of PGR3’s incredible visuals and sim-ish racing dynamics, you’re unable to just take a car out for a spin on the streets of the different locations. Here you can conceivably drive around for hours and hours (like in real life I suppose), taking in the nice visuals of the island and its assorted locales. I’ll have to put up a review of this one in the Games section after I spend some more time with it.

Gaming Weather

Well it’s defintely been a case of the weather dicatating what I did on a weekend. The cold, wet weather we’ve been suffering through for the last week kept me indoors, but at least it gave me an excuse for finally finishing the main quest in Oblivion. I could almost hear my 360 sigh with relief as it finally blooped that I’d got the Hero of Cyrodiil achievement. Now, to do the guild quests, and venture forth to all areas I breezed past in order to complete the main quest.

I’ve scarcely booted up EVE these days for much other than skill training, I just simply haven’t had the time to put towards a serious session with it. Work’s been busy, and when I do get home I’m more likely to plop down on the couch than in front of the PC.

I’ve been enjoying cooking more and more these days. It’s strangely relaxing, and rewarding, not to mention damn tasty (when you get things right). I’ve been slowly amassing a collection of recipes that I’ve been using thanks to sites like FoodTV and such. I can’t begin to say what an amazing resource that site is for guys thinking of getting into proper cooking techniques and making real food (not KD or ramen).

It’s also a great way to impress the women. 🙂

Two more demos this week

So two demos came out on the Xbox Live Marketplace. One for Just Cause, and another for Test Drive Unlimited.

Just Cause is kind of an amalgam of Grand Theft Auto, Mercenaries, and that awesome sequel to Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. It seems to me that the developers paid a ton of attention to making a graphics engine that could handle massively large scale environments, but forgot about one little detail. What was it again?… oh yes, compelling gameplay.

There’s some interesting concepts there, but I can see the full game having a ton of missions to do, all of them variations on a few generic themes.

Test Drive Unlimited will herald itself as probably the 25th racing game for the Xbox 360, but it’s got some interesting twists. Namely, you drive around in your cars, around a closely detailed recreation of the islands of Hawaii. The catch: other players are driving around with you, and you can either cruise the streets, do single player races, or challenge people at random.

The game engine’s neat, but the driving dynamics are fairly clunky. It’s not trying to be a sim, and at least the controls are better than the E3 demo, but spend five minutes with any game on Xbox Live and you’ll see why having a persistent environment with all other players is a bad idea.

I drove around in the demo area, spent a few minutes driving down the wrong way of the main highway getting in everone’s way, just to see how easy it would be. Turns out it’s very easy to be annoying to people just driving around. Better hope the official races with people are instanced, otherwise roadblocking will be a common disruptive tactics by non-racers.

Still, these are just demos, so maybe they’ll nail both of these when they go to retail. But for me the demos have done their job, and I’m confident I won’t be buying them.