Tag Archives: pc

This Week in Gaming – Week of February 9, 2009

Here’s a little experiment I did for a new weekly feature that I think it would be fun to start doing. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually stick with it. I do already have a lot of ideas for how to make the second one better. If you have any feedback, send it my way. Tell me what you think.


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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Co-Op Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards. I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap. The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point. I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played. But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Cooperative Game

  • Gears of War 2
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Rock Band 2

You know what? There was no contest here. Left 4 Dead wins this by a mile. I’m not going to spend a long time blabbering about why, primarily because I already have in a previous award. This is, plain and simple, one of the best cooperative experiences I have ever had, much less the best of 2008.

Playing through a game together with a friend is, to my taste, worlds more fun than competing against them. For a while it was something that was also fairly rare. I am pleased to see that more and more games are adding in co-op as a feature, and more of them are putting quite a bit of emphasis on it as well. None of them do it as well as Left 4 Dead, however. The visceral thrill of surviving the zombie hordes with the help of a good team and some decent strategy is simply unmatched.


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Review – Mirror’s Edge: Frustration Has Never Been This Much Fun

Mirror’s Edge had me from the moment I first saw a glimpse of it. It was a game made just for me. Platforming, racing, a unique art style, and innovation all wrapped up into one tidy package that I knew on first sight I just had to own.

It’s really a shame that the developers weren’t as confident in their concept as I was. In their defense, I suppose it is hard for the creator of a gun-obsessed series like Battlefield to quit weapons cold turkey with a drastic change in tone like Mirror’s Edge. Old habits die hard, right?

Well, yeah, apparently.

The combat in Mirror’s Edge is so clearly the weakest link here that it’s really hard to understand how they could justify it being included at all. With a little tweaking it would not have been hard to make running the only option when faced with foes. Running is certainly the most fun option.

There are numerous sections in the game where Faith is being chased by a group of enemies who are constantly on her tail. One wrong move and she’s toast. She must rely on her reflexes, her skills, and her runner’s instinct to get out alive and outrun her pursuers.

mirrors-edge-sniper_kick_webMoments like those are where the game really shines. The tension hums in the air. Your heart beats faster, fingers gripping the controller in white-knuckled suspense. Inevitably, a few minutes later, this epic chase scene will be followed by running right into the waiting laser sights of far too many armored goons with impeccable aim and nothing even resembling mercy.

Of course. It makes perfect sense that my unarmored, fragile, female protagonist who’s profession relies on her to run everywhere should stop cold and take the enemies down in combat.

Yeah, perfectly logical, that.

Combat is not the only stumble in Mirror’s Edge. There are a number of other nitpicks that could be brought up to drag it kicking and screaming even further away from that ever-elusive goal line of perfection. But among all the things that went slightly awry with this game, the forced combat sections stand out by far as the clearest failure. A clear signal, at least to me, that the developers didn’t quite realize just how awesome their game already was sans fisticuffs.

mirrors-edge-scr1 Perhaps those clever, devil-horned marketing types who couldn’t fathom selling a first-person game without a gun made the decision. Perhaps the developers realized perfectly well what was going on but just didn’t have time to fix it before the ship date. Perhaps the creators were simply afraid of a lack of variety and couldn’t come up with any other way to change things up.

In any case, the damage has been done.

mirrors-edge-slide_webI can deal with most of Mirror’s Edge’s other stumbles. Overly frequent deaths at missed jumps and failed attempts are a small price to pay for not having another completely needless time-manipulation mechanic slapped on the game like so many other spineless platformers these days. A short length is disappointing but hardly signals a death knell in this age of shiny-but-short that we seem to have careened into headfirst thanks to our high-maintenance, testosterone-fueled game consoles of choice. Hell, the time trial mode included in this game might well be the most fun part of the package and it’s highly replayable and, dare I say it, more than a little addictive.

What it all comes down to is that Mirror’s Edge is quite clearly a valiant stab in the dark at a genre many, including myself, wouldn’t have thought possible before its release. If you had asked me half a year ago whether a first-person platformer would be fun I would have had violent flashbacks to horrible Half Life 2 jumping puzzles and then ran screaming away in the other direction screaming, “Oh, God, no!”

me2But here we are and Mirror’s Edge isn’t half bad. Color me surprised. I hope to look back on Mirror’s Edge in the future and say that the best thing about it was that it taught the developers how to make a good game in this style and the sequel ended up being the better game by leaps and bounds. That may well be exactly my thoughts a year or two from now. I look forward to the day.

In the meantime, Mirror’s Edge as it stands isn’t a total loss. You just have to go in with a mindset of forgiveness. Know ahead of time that it’s not perfect, that it requires patience, and that you’ll probably want to change the difficulty to easy to keep yourself sane.

But if you do all of those things, Mirror’s Edge has moments unlike any other game out there. It has thrills like a roller coaster and the most amazingly visceral player-protagonist connection yet seen in gaming, not to mention a gorgeous art style and a story world that at least has promise.

Not bad for taking a blind run at a genre that didn’t exist.


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From the Archives: P.O.A.: Patched on Arrival

Having written quite a few random articles over the years for various tiny, short-lived blogs and web sites nobody has ever heard of, I have a number of articles lying around my hard drive.  Some of them are actually worth reading.  Maybe.  This is one of them.  It was originally posted to an old blog of mine on February 25, 2007.  It has been slightly cleaned up, but is otherwise untouched.  There are plenty of things I could have tacked onto it to make it a little more relevant, such as the PS3’s need to actually install bloody everything now on top of downloading it, but I resisted the temptation.  Enjoy.

Welcome to PC Land, console kiddies!

The day has come at last!  The cute little consoles have finally grown up to experience the glory that their hairy, adult, deep-voiced big brothers, PC gamers, have been basking in for so long.  No longer shall the TV-tethered entertainment boxes be deprived of the brain-shattering wonder that has been dangled in front of their faces like the prospect of anything resembling a decent Sonic game before dazed Sega fans for so long.  No longer shall the land of mind-numbingly confusing keyboard layouts; innumerable Civilization rip-offs; bloated, aging Windows installations screaming to be put out of their misery; graphics cards priced in small children rather than dollars; and enough driver updates to choke an innocent 60 GB hard drive have bragging rights over those poor, simplified, outdated children’s toys cursed with lower prices, more consistent user experiences and a significantly reduced chance of catching one of those nasty email viruses that translates your documents into Swahili and erases all of the Easter Eggs off your DVDs.

Yes my friends, the day has indeed come.  Finally console gamers the world over can open the shrink wrap on their shiny new game disc developed by a friendly marketing department near you, pop it into their system of choice, turn the console on with the power button on the controller instead of the system itself because Jesus-in-a-hair-metal-band it’s so much cooler that way, and enjoy the sight of a glorious download progress bar before they even glimpse the title screen because the developers couldn’t be bothered to actually finish the game before shoving it into our greedy, greasy, impatient hands.

I’m sorry little Timmy.  Your game never stood a chance.  There was nothing we could do to save it.  It was P.O.A.:  Patched on Arrival.

We’ve been able to see the dark cloud of downloadable evil floating our way for quite a while now, ever since that blasted Internet thingy started creeping its insidious way into our beloved boxes of isolated joy.  All we could do was hope that maybe we could be spared the fate of those poor bastards the PC gamers, who have had to go through this shit ever since 28.8 Kbps modems became the coolest thing since fried ice cream.

Alas, it was not to be so.

Crackdown is just the most recent offender.  Many before it in our new generation of orgasmic high-definition awesomeness have undergone last minute digital surgery, if not right at launch, then soon thereafter.

“It’s really not that big of a deal,” I can hear you whiny little bastards protest from the sidelines.  Well of course it’s not you little pricks, but that doesn’t make it good.  Don’t shovel unfinished crap on me and then expect me to act as your beta tester.  If I’m going to be a game tester I want to work 27 consecutive 24-hour stress-filled days fueled by pizza, soda, and self-loathing like the real thing, not have the task forced upon me when I’m expecting a finished game.

It’s a snowball effect that’s going to be damn hard to stop, too.  Once one lazy developer sees they can get away with it, news of their success is going to spread quicker than that of Alisha breaking up with Adam at the 12-year-olds’ gossip convention until every game on the shelves will be a half-finished pathetic excuse for a real game just waiting for a magical Internet transfer of ones and zeroes to make it whole (or ¾ anyway; whole is probably stretching it a tad).

So sit back and weep, gamers.  The day has come and, alas, it is a dark one indeed.

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Fallout 3: Tales from a Confuzzled Beginner

“Needs more tutorials.”

Now there’s something I don’t find myself saying every day, but if ever it was appropriate to utter the abominable sentence above, Fallout 3 is the place to let it slip.

The game exudes an atmosphere that I want to soak in through every pore.  I want to explore, to discover, to roam, and to grow.  But all of that is sadly difficult when I’m this bloody confused.

I’ve certainly played through my fair share of games that took handholding to the extreme.  It’s rarely, fun. A bad tutorial can sour the beginning of a game for a new player.

On the other hand, a good tutorial section can seamlessly introduce players to the world, the story, and the game mechanics while providing a gripping opening scene at the same time.  Metroid Prime, for example, teased players with its exciting space station start, complete with full weapon set, puzzles, enemies, and an escape sequence.


Fallout 3 comes maddeningly close to this ideal latter scenario.  The opening moments, from birth through childhood and to adulthood, provide the perfect backdrop to let players create their character and stats while introducing the story world and basic mechanics.  The problem is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

There are numerous aspects of this expansive title that are not introduced or explained to the player by the game (not to mention others that are explained much clearer in the manual, as I found out the hard way too late for it to do me any good).

When that vault door slams shut behind the character, the player’s digital avatar isn’t the only one left stranded by herself in a barren wasteland.  The game seems to abruptly stop teaching the player at about this point, right when the information is needed the most.

Once I found my way to the first settlement and had a couple of quests to my name, I hit kind of a wall.  I didn’t know how to make money.  I wasn’t entirely sure where to go.  I was too weak to explore just about anywhere (or, seemingly, travel to complete one of my quests).  Meanwhile, the game just sat back and quietly snickered at my ignorance, offering not so much as a hint of a helping hand.

It doesn’t help that the game is too hard for my tastes on normal difficulty.  I have since turned it down, without shame I might add, in hopes it would help my experience become more enjoyable.  My fingers are crossed.

It also doesn’t help that the game is set up to force me to make decisions long before I’m ready to make them or can understand their implications.  This bugs me in every game that does it, and it seems particularly common in these open-ended RPGs (such as, oh, I don’t know, Oblivion, say).

How the hell am I supposed to know which of these 27 categories to put my points in?  I haven’t even played the stupid game yet.  I don’t know what they do, what I like, or how I want to play.  How many points should I put in each category?  Is this too much?  Should I spread them out?  Is that bad?  Will this hurt me in the end game or does it not matter much what I do until later?  Can I change it?

And so on.

For me, the beginning of Fallout 3 has been marred by this lack of information.  I spent far too much time simply figuring out what to do instead of enjoying the gorgeous world and fun game play.  I still can’t help but be nervous that I’ve made some grave mistake in character planning or action that I won’t find out is going to totally screw me until about 30 hours in.

Hey, it could certainly have happened in Oblivion.

I’m anxious to get over these problems so the game can solidify itself as one of my favorite games of all time as I’m sure it eventually will.

In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go study the instruction manual and buy a strategy guide.

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