Man, I am so behind on my blogging. Since I have last posted a video game review, I completed 3 games, two of which are in the second round of Apples ‘n’ Oranges. I’ll briefly review them now.

DiRT 2

Gamerscore after 1 playthrough: 855/1000

Game it is most like from Round 1: GRiD

My feelings toward the sequel to DiRT are closer to my feeling on GRiD than DiRT 1. Codemasters took the original DiRT rally/off-road formula, mixed it with equal parts Monster and X-Treme!!!!1!!1!, and served it with a side of GRiD’s flashback features. The original formula was great, but the X-Games veneer dumbed down the gameplay quite a bit. Rally is emphasized much less in favor of rallycross (aka standard circuit race) and rally (aka standard off-road point-to-point). Of the 41 tracks, only 15 were rally tracks. These 15 tracks consist of 5 long rallies legs and then each half of that leg. Granted, some of the short legs start the opposite end from where you enter in the long track, but it is rather sad compared to the 4-6 different legs per location in DiRT. This kills the replay value of the game.

They did make some substantial improvements, though. They kinda added 2 levels of performance mods for every purchasable car to the mix. Liveries are unlocks, as are new visual doodads like bobbleheads, hula girl dashboard toys, and fuzzy dice. By far, my favorite part of the X-Treme additions were the custom car horns! That’s right; you can obnoxiously emit fire truck noises from your car. The other drivers talk to you mid-race; you bump into them and they snap at you. They congratulate you when you win. It adds a sense of online-esque camaraderie to the single-player campaign. The one-on-one throwdowns are a change of pace. And finally, no stupid champagne references.

Totals Time:

Gameplay: 4.5/5

Presentation: 4/5

Interface: 4/5

Replay: 3/5

Morality: 5.5/5

Total: 4.2/5

Need for Speed: Shift

Gamerscore after 1 playthrough: 910/1000

Game it is most like from Round 1: Need for Speed: Carbon

If I had to sum up Shift in one sentence, it would be: They crammed the Carbon driving engine into a Forza level technical racer. Even after some hefty control adjustments and tuning, the racing still did not feel right. I played the game with the same settings I played Forza 3, but I seriously considered turning on the turn-assist function.

The game is structured better than Carbon. They offered enough off-line badges (the new reward cards) to actually earn the full 1 K if you can get past the driving engine. Money is easy to get. The aggression/precision leveling system is a really cool idea. I just wish it was in a better game. And the whole illegality thing is done for.

Totals Time:

Gameplay: 2/5

Presentation: 4/5

Interface: 3/5

Replay: 3/5

Morality: 5/5

Average: 3.4/5

So, a slight dip in DiRT and a slight bump in Need for Speed. Let’s see how Split/Second goes…

Read a Game?: Mass Effect 2

February 5, 2010

Gamerscore after 1 playthrough: 815/1015

For those of you thinking that 1015 is an abnormal number, Mass Effect 2 is the first game to really take advantage of my newly Interweb connected X-Box 360. One of the “Week 1” DLC featured a 15 point achievement (REVENGE!). If I could find the image of Homer Simpson brandishing a bat and yelling “REVENGE!”, I would put it here.

Mass Effect 2 is the sequel to arguably one of the best RPGs of all time. An RPG that I played over 6 times.

The biggest dock I have on the game is what most reviewers consider the biggest improvement. Instead of the game being an RPG wrapped in a thin, crunchy shooter shell, Mass Effect 2 is a shooter with light RPG elements. I am no fan of shooters. I freely admit it, so please take this with a grain of salt if you are one of those Frat Boy Bromancing FPS players. I can live with some of the combat improvements: it’s nice to have body position specific damage, ammo types switching on the fly, and hits not being dependent on dice rolls. What royally sucks? Having to mess with reloading. The first game had a cooldown meter if you fired too much at once. You sit in cover and wait for the meter to go down. This new game has heat exchangers. When the gun overheats, you dislodge the heat exchanger and put another one in. If you run out, you cannot fire that weapon until you find one to pick up. This especially blows when you play as a soldier (like I started out as in the original) because your powers are dependent on HAVING AMMO and there is one gun to rule them all (the battle rifle)! I had to fight the final boss using the sniper rifle because I run out of battle rifle clips.

The rest of my thoughts will be presented in the typical bullet form:

The Good

  • Gameplay: They made mineral collection worthwhile by integrating upgrades as research projects. Those “find doodads” on uncharted worlds were the first I stopped bothering to do in the first game.
  • Gameplay: Side missions are not in one of three cookie cutter locations like in the last game.
  • Presentation: No more visual pop-ups.
  • Presentation: The background music is cool enough to get added to the collection (just like the first one!)
  • Interface: The Cerberus network is a semi-convenient way to get informed on DLC. It would be very convenient if it was not for my Scylla, Charybdis, and Charazard conundrum.
  • Interface: They cleaned up the various inventory interfaces to where inventory management is not an issue.
  • Interface: One of your powers is automatically mapped to the Y button, which is nice.
  • Replay: Despite the fact that I hate shooters, I’m jonesing to start a second playthough right now.

The Bad

  • Gameplay: Kelly does not count for the paramour achievement. Kelly! She is the only (how do you say…) emotionally attractive crew member that you can pursue a relationship with.
  • Morality: There is unavoidable violence and language. There is avoidable gore, nakedness, evil pursuits, and sexual issues.

The Meh

  • Gameplay: They got rid of the Mako sequences.
  • Gameplay: They streamlined the skill tree
  • Gameplay: Experience is only earned by completing missions.

Total Time:

Gameplay: 4/5

Presentation: 5/5

Interface: 5/5

Replay: 5/5

Morality: 2.75/5

Total: 4.35/5

When I reviewed Forza 3, I noted how I successfully avoided drag racing at that point. Well, I got around to trying a drag event today. This is not going to change the score I gave Forza; the mere fact that they are requiring me to drag race to get the last achievement I want is enough to warrant the dock I gave it. I never really elaborated on why I hate video game drag racing and how Forza handles it. Consider this a supplement.

My first couple of experiences with it was in the Need for Speed series, which might have colored the activity in a negative fashion. My problem with drag racing is threefold:

  • They force you into a manual transmission set-up. I typically stay in automatic unless the game bribes me with a manual transmission achievement; then I’ll try it in a race I know I will win and then switch back. It is jarring to have the back and forth.
  • They remove your ability to steer effectively and stick obstacles (cars, barrels, et cetera) in your way. So a drag race typically turns into a 30 minute crash-fest until I learn the pattern well enough to get the win.
  • The payoff is typically not worth the time (as determined by in-game currency per hour) one has to put into the system. So every time I finish a drag I think that I could have made 3-4 times the money if I played a different event.

Well, Forza addressed some of my issues in a positive way. You can keep your automatic transmission if you like, which is nice. Granted, you probably won’t win against real players that way, but you can certainly plow though the drag events without too much hassle. As a sim, Forza does not have the obstacles that EA thought would add spice to the race type.

The payoff is still atrocious. The high-end drag events (which appear to be 3 3-heat races) pay 2,700 credits before any bonus money or difficulty adjustments are added to the mix. That is equivalent to 1 low level race. The load times alone (12 load screens for drag vs. 1 load screen for a single race) make it impossible for drag to pay the same amount per hour than the cheesy first-tier races that you spend maybe half of Year 1 on. I understand why they did that (to keep people from spamming a drag race as a gold farming activity), but making the payoff so low makes the event a drag. At least the other point-to-point races pay an equivalent amount of money by the time you complete the event.

Gamerscore after “Year 6”: 855/1000

Game it is most like for Round 1: Forza 2

Forza 3 is a sim-style racer that improves on the graphical presentation of it’s predecessor and steals the calendar as career format from games like PGR 4 and the flashback feature from GRiD. That’s all you really have to know. But, I must elaborate. Notes for the typical review categories will only cover those things that cannot be placed in one of the Apples ‘n’ Oranges categories.

The Good

  • Gameplay: The flashback feature is well done.
  • Presentation: The visuals did get a nice update. The Ferris Wheel at Suzuka moves this time.
  • Interface: The calendar system is a nice touch, in general. The game makes 3 suggestions for weekday events (one of which can be changed by switching cars), and at least one of them usually fit my mood. The weekend events are set in stone, and you will repeat the R1 Championship Series ad nauseum Year 7 and onward.
  • Interface: The event list system is a streamlined version of the old menu interface. At a glance, you can see which events you have unlocked, completed, and have a car for.
  • Morality: The game still teaches that bad driving equals smoking wreaks.
  • Car Quantity: 400 or so on the disc, plus some freebies in DLC land.
  • Car Modification (Visual): The new blank canvas feature allows for relatively easy creation of complex decals and figures. The only complaint I have is that the created figure does not count as one layer.
  • Unique Race Types: I enjoyed the new event types Super Lap (1 giant lap)and Speedway (oval races). They are a nice change of pace from the traditional track races Forza normally has.
  • Achievements: No “Collect every car from a country” achievements!

The Bad

  • Gameplay: They tied one’s starting place on one’s level a little too tightly this time around. You might have the best car in the race, but the game will shove you in the last spot when you start. This might be more “realistic”, but it really is more annoying than anything else. The one race I lost was because I could not overtake the lead car when I was in last place with a car that would have placed me in the middle of the pack if the game used the Forza 2 starting system.
  • Presentation: The quality of the background music has decreased steadily since the first one. I miss the Junkie XL instrumental stuff in the background of a race. If the generic EA Trax-esque soundtrack played only during the menu screens, it would be tolerable, but they decided to bring back music in game. I think that was a poor move. It got to the point where I was listening to something else and had the sound to my TV turned down so that I could only hear the engine noises.
  • Interface: The in-race HUB is almost unusable. I know they wanted to match the spiffy new visuals in the menus by having the data point graphics be semi-opaque, but I could not read my times unless a dark patch was in the top corner of the screen. The gas tank levels, lap time deltas, and car ahead/behind data suffered similarly.
  • Interface: The “you screwed up” (id est, hit a car, slide off the track) indicators bear a special mention because it is downright broken. Gone is the old “add penalty time in bright red to one’s lap time” indicator, which, while a little annoying, made it blatantly obvious where you are screwing up. The new “triangle” indicator is ridiculously hard to see while you “making the mistake”. I put that in quotes because I lost track of how many times it would flair up while I was not doing anything wrong. It was especially annoying considering that, once you have completed a lap without the triangle showing up, the game would no longer use a triangle lap as the best lap in the box, which using that lap’s time as the best time in the lap time delta indicators. That is a major screw-up.
  • D’s of Doom: Forza 3 has 1.5 D’s, as opposed to Forza 2’s 0 D’s. To be fair, you can get past Year 6 (the end of all new calendar events) without ever participating in a drag event (like I did) and drift is more of a side activity (it has no off-line events). While drifting still uses the normal physics, the drift calculation system is incredibly infuriating. For it to count, the angle of your car has to stay betwixt 45 to 90 from the road, you cannot stop or veer off the road in any way. I earned the one-time drift achievement (1 K points in one turn) purely on accident and, after 5 solid attempts, gave up on the lap version (100K points in one lap).
  • Currency: They took out the rarity scores of old, so money (credits) is earned based on final place, damage, and difficulty settings only. Similarly, all the cars are unlocked from the beginning and you earn a car every level instead of finishing first in every race in an event. Needless to say, it is annoying to drop money on cars just to be given one for free later, especially since it seems one can only sell a car back for 100 credits.

The Meh

  • Gameplay: The actual racing has not changed from the previous iteration in any noticeable way. That is not a bad thing, but it may not have the same appeal the first time around.
  • Gameplay: They took out the “pick a region” aspect of the previous games. On the one hand, no more worries about cars being locked out when you are not in their home region. On the other hand, no more discounts on cars.
  • Replay: Replay suffers because of the sheer number of events and how they are paced. I have more or less put the game up and I have not finished it. Sure, I will play it a couple of hours a week until I finally get the 100% event first place achievement, but the spark to play it non-stop has been quashed by the game’s flaws.
  • Car Quality: It’s the same mixed bag as in the previous 2 Forzas. They added a F and E class while getting rid of the R4 class, which helps make a higher percentage of the cars useful in at least 1 race without mods, but I probably did not use 10% of the cars I had access to to get to this point.
  • Car Modification (Performance): The quick upgrade system seems of little value. The times I had to upgrade, I went though the menus the old-fashioned way.
  • Unique Race Types: They brought back the point-to-point races from Forza 1, but implemented them in a weird fashion. Instead of the normal 1 8-car race, you have 3 heats of 1 vs. 1 races for each track in the event. Needless to say, it’s time consuming with little payoff.
  • Achievements: 940 of 1000 points are offline. Most of the achievements are earned by getting to level 50, which is the wrong way to do it. They have 1 80 point achievement for beating all 220 events, but no real rewards for continuing on after completing Year 6 to finish the 100 or so events you still have to do to get there.

Totals time:

Gameplay: 4.5/5

Presentation: 4.5/5

Interface: 3/5

Replay: 4/5

Morality: 6/5

Average: 4/5

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Gamerscore after 2 playthroughs: 635/1000

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a sequel to Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which was a sequel to X-Men Legends 2, which was also a sequel. Unlike the previous games, this one was made by Vicarious Visions (who built an engine used by the other games). So, it’s a sequel that is not a sequel. Or something.

As a side note, I’m going to try something different and combine the traditional paragraph thang with the Good, Bad, and Ugly-esque bullets I do for sequels.

The Good

  • Gameplay: The fusion powers are mostly cool. The X-treme powers were a little hokey and the fusion powers being mapped on a trigger opens up an easily accessible fifth power.
  • Presentation: The graphics are crazy amazing and the sound is pretty darn good, too.
  • Presentation: They nailed Deadpool. Fourth wall breaking jokes for the win.
  • Replay: Replays are more important than ever. A pseudo-branching second act with exclusive swag helps in that regard.

The Bad

  • Gameplay: There are only 9 missions. 9. As a point of comparison, Alliance 1 had at least 11. There was so little in the main mode they have an achievement for not dying on every map.
  • Gameplay: The game was a little buggy. Especially the Wakanda mission.
  • Presentation: The story kinda set the Civil War storyline on fire for three reasons. One: There is no reason for a good number of player/characters to be there. Thor? Dead. Hulk? Launched into space. Phoenix? Dead. Iceman? His involvement in Civil War was to try and rescue the 198. Gambit? He was doing something so inconsequential that I cannot even remember it. Two: The comic book storyline was a little unbalanced, but there was no “let’s compromise our morals by bringin’ on The Punisher” moment on the Anti-Reg side in the game. The developers drop the whole “but the Anti-Regs released the nanite-infected super villains” cop-out, but that side never dipped into the greyness that would make the Pro-Reg side palatable. Three: Nanite hive mind ending? Really?
  • Interface: You cannot assign powers to buttons. I cannot tell you how many times I meant to whack someone with a Deadpool melee combo to watch him pull out the pistols because I was used to my old method of A=melee power, B= projectile, X= radial and Deadpool’s A power is the projectile and B and Y are both melees.
  • Morality: There is some political correctness going on here. Wolverine quits his cigars and references it in his fightin’ quips.

The Meh

  • Gameplay: The game plays the same as it always did. Half of the advancements they made felt like it would fit in X-Men Legends, not in the forth of the series. Kinda lame.
  • Gameplay: The team leveling function is replaced by “team boosts”. 3 equipment spots for medals. Medals do stuff.

The Totals:

Gameplay: 4/5

Presentation: 4/5

Interface: 3/5

Replay: 5/5

Morality: 4/5

Total: 4/5

So, I have finally caught up on the first round of Apples ‘n’ Oranges (see post below). Unfortunately, 3 of the 5 games I have listed as potential Round 2 games are already out (I’m currently playing Forza 3; DiRT 2 and Need for Speed: Shift are out and not yet bought). So, it’s time to start thinking about Round 2.

My current list of Round 2 participants:

  • Forza 3
  • DiRT 2
  • Need for Speed: Shift
  • Blur
  • Split/Second

It’s a shorter list, but that’s okay. I could pad it with the Need for Speed games betwixt Carbon and Shift (Pro Street and Undercover), but I am not that much of a masochist. If the list needs to be expanded by the sudden announcement of a potentially good racer that will be out within a reasonable amount of time of the last on the list, I’ll add ’em in then.

Whenever I beat one of those games, I will stick up a review. I will (hopefully) include all the Apples ‘n’ Oranges comparison points along with the typical review system deal. Whenever I have the last on the list beaten, we’ll see which is the best around. Will Turn 10 go back to back? We’ll see.

In case you do not want to dig back to the premise post, here are the points of comparison:

  • Car Quantity– How many cars are in the game
  • Car Quality– How many cars are in the game AND actually fun to drive
  • Car Modification (Visual)– How can you make the cars pretty
  • Car Modification (Performance)– How can you make the cars drive better
  • D’s of Doom– There are a couple of race types that, in my humble opinion, should be banished from the realm of racer. They both happen to start with “D”: Drift and Drag. They throw the game physics out of whack to make drift work and still then think it is somehow fun to slide around like your car is a greased brick. Frustration abounds. And drag boils down to annoying pattern recognition game design that went out of style in the 90’s. Again, frustration abounds.
  • Unique Race Types– Are you just doing circuit/point-to-point races, or does the game have more variety?
  • Currency– How does the game’s economy work. Just cash? Earning reputation, too? How is cash (and rep, if applicable) earned?
  • Achievements– How many achievements are offline? How many are reasonably attainable?

This is my attempt to close out Round 1 of Apples ‘n’ Oranges. Seeing as I did not go back and replay either of these games (and have traded them in for Mass Effect 2 pre-order money), this is going to be relatively brief. I’m going to review these games based off of what I can remember about them, so I am not going to go though all the Apples ‘n’ Oranges rigmarole.

Project Gotham Racing 4

Gamerscore after playthrough: 855/1000

This is Bizarre Creations last PGR game (and my first one to play). It’s go a similar career structure as GRiD, but with a more arcade-y feel and the option to race cars OR bikes. Weather effects can throw monkeys into your wrenches. Yes, there is drift racing, but it is drift racing done right. Drifting is a part of the normal race engine, so you do not have to learn 2 different sets of physics rules like you do when, say, Need for Speed digs out the drift stuff. Of all the games in Round 1, this is the game where I hated the drift stuff the least. Speaking of drifting, you earn “kudos” for things like drifting, along with overtaking people in the race, winning, and maybe clean sections. You spend kudos on things ranging from useful (car and track packs) to kind of lame (helmet designs) to downright hilarious (like the million kudo gamercard picture).

The graphics were cool at the time. The weather effects spiced things up. The build-your-own livery system is on par with GRiD’s, but without the sponsorship aspects. I do not remember anything about the sound.

The interface is a little clunky, if I am remembering right. Things glitched in a “positive” way, especially when I was buying stuff to get the “bought it all” achievement. The biggest letdown was the lack of replay. I beat the career, played through the arcade mode once, and felt down with the game.

Morality wise, I do not remember anything one way or another.

Total time:

Gameplay: 4/5

Presentation: 4/5

Interface: 4/5

Replay: 3/5

Morality: 5/5

Total: 4/5

Burnout Paradise

Gamerscore after playthrough: 555/1000 (Reason for the low score forthcoming)

Criterion’s latest racer, Burnout Paradise brought the Burnout style of gameplay into a true open-world environment. No retry button, no in-game mini-map, no invisible walls forcing you to go one way. Just you and your car killing other cars. In fact, the open-world environment got a little annoying. The PS3 version included the option to upload your save to EA’s website to get a personalized “You missed stuff'” map. They never brought that option to the 360, as far as I can tell. I beat the game with all but a couple of each of the smash into something collectibles found. My options were to use a walk-though to go to every run into things collectible to find those last few or forget about 80 points. I chose the later. Combine that with the 285 on-line points, and that explains that.

Getting off that rabbit trail, boosting works differently depending on what car you are in. The Aggro boost works like the traditional boosting system: By killing somebody, the bar extends and fills up; by being killed, the bar shrinks and empties. The stunt boost fills when you pull stunts. The speed boost fills when you use all of your boost at once, allowing you to build up “boost chains” (keep holdin’ down the boost button). Crashing takes away boost. This is not so bad with aggro and stunt, but makes speed just about less than useless. The AI is acceptably aggressive.

The soundtrack was the best of the bunch. A good combination of instrumentals, Paradise City, and indie. The graphics were pretty good too. The typical for Burnout lack of car coloring options was still there.

It is a long game (expect to have to beat every race at least twice). It has a ton of on-line content, both co-op and competitive. If you are off-line (like me), there is nothing really to do after you get that 100% I never bothered to get the last 2% on.

Morality-wise, the big premise is kill the other cars. That deserves a hit.

Gameplay: 4/5

Presentation: 4/5

Interface: 4/5

Replay: 3/5

Morality: 4.5/5

Total: 3.9/5

So, there you go. Let’s review Round 1 of Apples ‘n’ Oranges:

1st Place Forza 2: 4.8/5

2nd Place DiRT: 4.6/5

3rd Place GRiD: 4.2/5 (really?)

Also Rans

Need for Speed Most Wanted: 4/5; Project Gotham Racing 4: 4/5; Burnout Paradise: 3.9/5

Need for Speed Carbon: 3.2/5

I really want to disagree with myself and put either Most Wanted or Burnout in at 3rd place, but I’m not going to fight my own review system.