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Video Game Month in Review: April 2012

A late update for April, purely through laziness on my part and being mostly oblivious to the fact that it’s now May.  Ye gads, where has the year gone?

New Acquisitions

A game that I was very interested in a long time before release.  Lost amidst the Q1 rush of Final Fantasy, Mass Effect et al, I only got around to purchasing the game in early April along with the accompanying bible.

The third and final game of the fabled Operation Rainfall non-trilogy.  Three disparate games, held together by a singular belief that all gamers everywhere should experience the dark seedy underbelly of Nintendo’s shining white knight.  While very glad that my friends across the pond will eventually be able play the games Europeans have been enjoying in instalments since September, the sadistic part of me is chuffed that we got them first.  After thirty years of languishing in gamer’s hell with whatever bones we were thrown to pick at, we were smeggin’ entitled to it.

Gears of War 2.  No I didn’t already have it.  Yes I knew all along what I was missing.  I just never got around to picking it up.  Or Gears 3, for that matter.  Anyway, problem solved to the tune of £3.  Also one of those arcade compilations I like so much (this one a SNK outing for the Wii) and the PS2 version of Silent Hill Origins, one of the tougher games in the series to track down.

Charity shop pick-ups, just a couple of PC games from the golden era.  Arx Fatalis is a grown-up rendition of Ultima Underworld, a first-person dungeon-crawling RPG, an antidote to the Elder Scrolls and a game worthy of your attention.  The Xbox version goes for a pretty penny, but the PC release should be easy enough to find.  Also a game callled Nocturne, a slightly surreal horror adventure I remember from the pages of PC Gamer back in the day.

16 loose Famicom carts of varying genre and quality courtesy of a dirt cheap eBay lot.  Nothing spectacular, a couple of first-party Nintendo games, a couple of shooters, some Mahjong and Igo games, some racers and my third copy of Dragon Quest III.

After hoarding my Club Nintendo points for what seems like an eternity, I figured I’d better spend them before they expire.  And what better piece of tat to add to my shelf than this, an anniversary edition replica of the first-ever Game & Watch title, Ball.  It’s an awesome little piece and will stay firmly enshrined in my collection.

Finally, a couple of DS games, purchased during the course of my Hotel Dusk playthrough.  I was impressed by that game’s style, so I tracked down a pair of related titles.  Last Window is a sequel to Hotel Dusk, while Another Code (called Trace Memory stateside) was a much earlier attempt from developer Cing.  Sadly, Cing does not exist any more, but it’s a decent enough legacy.

Games Played

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)

Hotel Dusk is an interesting adventure game for the DS in the vein of latter-day noir crime fiction, presenting that genre’s love of intertwining plot lines, conspiracies and head-shaking coincidences.  As adventure games go, it’s very talky… essentially, Hotel Dusk is one big conversation tree interspersed with some very easy puzzle sections and a good amount of wandering around in a confined area.  It’s also long… very long.  I’m up to 11.20 in the evening, still got the whole night ahead of me and I’m no closer to figuring out what the hell is going on.  So many secrets in this place.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (X360)

So, Kingdoms of Amalur.  I’ll admit that I was a little worried there for a while, in those first few weeks after release.  I was a bit disappointed at the gulf between the dark, bloody concept art I had been teased with for months and the actual in-game style and was similarly stumped by the demo, which presented Reckoning as far too light and Fable-y for my tastes.  However, it did come across as a strong, well-made RPG (with more than a little nod-and-a-wink to Euro-RPGs such as Gothic and the sadly-derided Venetica) and so on to my wish-list it went.  Since starting play, I’ve come to realise that the lighter, more magical fantasy style is a much better approach than my original expectations.  After the dual barrage of Dragon Age and The Witcher do we really need another dark ‘n’ bloody RPG?  Coming from the pen of R.A. Salvatore, Kingdoms of Amalur is high fantasy in the vein of Dragonlance and David Eddings, rather than the more mundane medieval fantasy of Feist and Gemmell.

It’s a rather large game too, with story to spare throughout the main plot line and literally hundreds of distractions along the way.  The areas travelled through on this epic journey are enjoyably distinct with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, dungeons to delve into and towns to ransack… er, I mean, pass peacefully through.  Character progression is well done as well.  Sure, you can pick one of the three traditional class structures and pile all your skill points into either might (warrior), finesse (rogue) or magic (erm, mage)… but equally valid and much more interesting is to mix ‘em up in all manner of new and interesting combinations.  Like slinging spells but relish the protection of heavy armour?  Want to quietly sneak up on your foes before bashing them over the head with the biggest hammer ever forged?  The neat character development along with the myriad possibilities offered by the combo- and ability-based combat ensures that fighting your way through the lands of Amalur is never dull.  Rather, I’ve been having a blast all along both in terms of action and adventure.  In short, I misjudged Reckoning and hope to make amends by piling as many hours into this beast as I can and maybe even picking up the two DLC expansions sometime soon.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)

What always strikes me about Star Wars games that aren’t directly based on one of the films is how Star Wars-y they end up.  Game designers have become extremely adept at distilling what makes the Star Wars universe iconic and instantly recognisable and transporting that essence into new eras and locations.  While most other licensed properties rely on established characters and events to tell their tales and connect with a certain fanbase, what games such as KOTOR, Jedi Knight and X-Wing (along with the rest of the expanded universe, comics and novels et al) have done over the years is to bust the universe wide open, an almost unheard-of situation with such a tightly-controlled IP.  Almost any tale you wish to tell is possible in the Star Wars universe and that’s part of what permits The Old Republic to work.

Now, despite what Bioware would have you believe, The Old Republic isn’t really KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.  The level of storytelling and quality of the dialogue just isn’t quite up to snuff, the quest lines are too repetitive and the gameplay is too entrenched in standard MMO tropes to be truly worthy of succeeding that epic single-player RPG adventure.  However, that doesn’t mean that The Old Republic isn’t very good at being what it was actually designed to be: a story-orientated multi-player adventure… and the story aspect of The Old Republic is huge.  True, there is some padding here with big areas, plenty of fetch quests and kill contracts and lots of back-and-forth… but I’m 50 hours in to one toon and I’m still on Chapter 1.  Not only have I got the rest of my Jedi Sentinel’s story to play through, but then there’s seven other character’s tales to sample as well.  It’s all fully voiced too… which is actually a pretty incredible feat when you think about it.  Even if I can’t play the Republic Trooper for fear of retconning Commander Shepard into the Star Wars canon.

It’s actually really easy to solo through much of The Old Republic.  The majority of quests and areas are completely suited to a single-PC plus companion dynamic and high-level sections such as group quests and heroic areas that all but require teamwork are actually rather few and far between.  It actually reminds me more of Neverwinter Nights online component than World of Warcraft and it’s ilk.  Designed for soloing or for small groups, heavy on the story and light on the grind.  So although it’s not a replacement for KOTOR 3, essentially that’s how I’ve been treating it.  And am I pleased with myself?  Giving my life to a MMO when I swore I never would?  Heck, even lifetime free WOW never tempted me like TOR has.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (X360)

Not much more to say here that I didn’t cover in my last blog.  It might not be the epic action-RPG I have always hoped for, but Space Marine is an enjoyably dumb hack ‘n’ slash/shooter hybrid that is great fun for fans of the 40k universe.  I chainsword-ed and blaster-ed my way through the final couple of levels, finally sending Chaos back to the Warp and although I was then summarily subjected to a gut-punch of an ending… I had a great time doing it.

In Conclusion…

A mixed bag in April, with most of my playtime poured into The Old Republic: got to make the most of those initial 30 days!  Hopefully I’ll get my Wii back in business sooner rather than later as I’m well aware my Xenoblade progress is sorely lacking!

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4 responses

  1. I was almost expecting you to skip April’s monthly blog. Thought you’d be busy with your daily commute but seems like the good ol’ laziness was the culprit here.

    I’m surprised you liked Reckoning. I’ve only played the demo and while I enjoyed the excellent combat mechanics,I found the world and the gist of story a bit too cliched and dull. Apparently, those same problems plague the full game as well. I’ve never read any books by Mr.Salvatore,so he made a pretty poor first impression in my eyes.
    So, for now I’ve put Reckoning in my “buy when cheaper” list because more enticing RPGs await in the horizon.

    For example,Game of Thrones. I expected it to be a cheap cash-in on the popularity of the TV series(do you watch it?If so,I’d like to hear your thoughts on it) but the more I hear about it, the more interested I get in it. Pause-and-play combat. That smells more like a cRPG than a gimmicky console RPG! Colour me interested on that one.

    Crusader Kings II is another game I really want to get. I played an awful amount of Mount & Blade Warband (60hours in a week) and I really love the manner in which Paradox’s titles merge strategy and RPG and approach the concept of “sandbox”.

    Arx Fatalis is an excellent game. I never finished it though. Must get back to it someday.

    I’ve heard of Nocturne before although it was because I saw it mentioned in the title credits of SMT III Nocturne which was using its trademark in the US.

    Gears 2 is a pretty mediocre game. It has its fair share of exciting moments in its campaign and a singular highlight in the MP — Horde Mode but the rest is cookie-cutter stuff. In fact, Gears 2 is more of the cringe-worthy quality. Awful voice-acting, worse dialogues and level design that makes you want to reach for the nearest wall and hit your head on it.
    Get this, Epic thought it’d be neat to have an entire level involving partially platforming mechanics in a giant worm’s gut with the “smooth” control scheme of Gears. :/

    Mmm….you’re tempting me to try out SWTOR but I just can’t convince myself to commit the sin of paying monthly subscriptions. Its either F2P-or-bust for me.
    Speaking of which did you hear about the World of Darkness MMO that CCP,makers of EVE Online have been working on? They’ve released a few details last month. They had me interested at “World of Darkness” but unique elements like focus on social aspects and politics(much like E.V.E) and perma-death make it sound like a risky and ambitious MMO,exactly what the genre needs.

    I’m glad the Americans are getting treated with some Operation Rainfall goodness. It almost felt tragic to see them falling on their knees and begging to Nintendo America and Regginator when they clearly didn’t know better.

    And hey, we haven’t always had it *that* bad. Remember, SNES gems like Terranigma never saw a release on the “noisier side” of the pond. ;)

    I don’t recall asking you this before but considering you’re a Mancunian, which happens to be one of my favourite cities in the world since a lot of things I love — music(The Chameleons,Joy Division,Autechre,The Smiths) and teams(Manchester United) come from there. So, do you belong to the “Red” or the “Blue” side of Manchester? Or do you hold no football affiliation?

    Like always, its feel great reading your latest acquisitions and opinions on your blog.

    May 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    • I was surprised how much I liked Reckoning as well. R.A. Salvatore isn’t the greatest writer on the planet, most of his output is licensed stuff like Forgotten Realms tie-ins, but in many ways Reckoning is a nice throwback to the more simplistic fantasy novels I devoured as a youth. True, there’s nothing really new about the story and setting but I’m still having a great time playing. I guess sometimes I just need a break from overt complexity and this game is a great nostalgic throwback.

      I’m actually really looking forward to the Game of Thrones game. I read the books long, long ago and have recently become reacquainted with the story via the TV show, which is awesome. I’ll admit that early info on the game had me thinking ‘cheap Dragon Age knock-off’ but you’re right, as I hear more I’m glad it’s not trying to be all slick and console-y. Could be great, but from such an untried developer I’m reluctant to put down a pre-order. I’ll wait for a few reviews and more detailed info.

      I should really play Mount & Blade sometime. I picked up M&B and Warband in a Steam sale many moons ago and haven’t really played either of them although they do look interesting. It’s been a while since a sampled a more rough-hewn style of CRPG so perhaps I should give it a whirl, to remind myself that not everything has to be shiny and cinematic!

      Disappointed to hear that about Gears 2. I liked the first game even though I usually balk at third-person shooters (FPS is my bag). Having said that, it was only £3 so I shan’t complain.

      I really think the folks behind SWTOR have shot themselves in the foot a bit by making it so easy to play their MMO as if it was a single-player adventure. There’s practically no social requirements to the game at all, meaning a large chunk of players will just zoom through a couple of the class stories as if they were playing KOTOR3 and then put the game aside for good. Without making the social aspects more central to the core gameplay and presenting player interaction as more of a draw for the hardcore MMO-er I’m afraid the subscriber rate could tail off rather quickly. It’s a bit of a shame since there’s obviously been so much love been poured into the game’s creation… but I smell F2P in less than a year.

      World of Darkness MMO? Colour me interested.

      Terranigma… good call. Having said that, have you tried locating an original copy of that lately? Bloomin’ ridiculous prices.

      Red or blue? Red blooded all the way! Been a bit of a nail baiter, this season. Didn’t go exactly to plan for us reds, but hey-ho: a good year for Manchester!

      May 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm

  2. I’ve seen a few Forgotten Realms novels from R.A Salvatore but fantasy novels and I have had an extended separation for more than last 4-5 years. I simply have lost interest in that particular genre and now when I go to a bookstore I immediately head to something like Murakami,Kafka or Vonnegut. Unfortunately,I discovered George R.R Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” during that time and while the politically-centered premise interested me, I chose to skip it.

    The TV series has done an excellent job thus far. I’ve only watched the first season but the show has possibly climbed as my favourite TV shows on right now along with Dexter and Sherlock.
    Some marvelous characterization backed by powerful performances. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister simply stole the show for me. Even the little Maisie Williams looks extremely promising. The show has definitely done a great job in piquing my interest in the novels, although I might just stick to the TV show for now.

    I got Mount & Blade in a Steam sale as well.I didn’t expect much from it but the original is a surprisingly solid game.Relatively glitch-free for a low-budget title and the mounted action combat is extremely fun. When fused with RPG elements and strategy, it adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay. However, a lot of unrealized potential in the original is realized in Warband which is an expansion even though some sites apparently list it as a sequel.
    Warband is a very weird(but excellent) game. It switches its gears so frequently. You start as an adventurer and initially it feels like an action-RPG with minimal strategy elements. As you rise in stature to a vassal and eventually a king/queen, the strategy elements rise incrementally with a wide array of political and diplomacy options.Such a shift in the game sees the combat becomes less important and the strategy and diplomacy of greater importance. You’ll enjoy something like this, that’s for sure. :)

    Hehe,you’re right its been a nail-biting year.Always expected City to give us a tough fight but didn’t expect it would have so many twists and turns in its way.I think both teams could have won or lost it at various points, but I still see that 4-4 draw against Everton as a more painful “loss” than the defeat at Etihad.
    Seems like the Glazers will need to fill the coffers a bit because Fergie will need to do some summer shopping this time.
    Tell me, a little part of you in some corner is secretly hoping for QPR to pull off an upset this weekend. Highly unlikely I know but I think its in any Red Devils’ fans to be optimistic till the last minute. ;)

    May 11, 2012 at 4:56 am

  3. Dan J Stine

    My April acquisition progress was somewhat disappointing as well. Of course I was wrapping up my last semester so I didn’t spend much time gaming.

    Anyway, I always wanted to get the Game and Watch replica but at the time I didn’t have enough coins on my Club Nintendo account to get it. I did however get the Game and Watch Collection 1 for DS so that counts for something. I recently earned a Platinum rank on my account. I love Clubby Ninty so much, :3

    Lastly, Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story are on my wishlist from the Operation Rainfall catalog. I don’t have enough information to form an opinion of Pandora’s Tower, but I’m fortunate to finally play the other two JRPGs after waiting for it to arrive here in North America. I pre-ordered The Last Story and will be purchasing Xenoblade “eventually, but as soon as possible”. :P

    May 14, 2012 at 11:38 pm

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