Thursday, July 29, 2010

In Rotation, July 2010

Remember when I said last month that crunch time at the day job would mean less content here for a week or two? Yeah, so turns out I meant three or four.

Still, I'll soldier on with this month's edition of In Rotation:

XBOX 360
  • Dead Space. I know it's been said before, but what a gem this game is! While the concept is nowhere near original, the execution (pun intended) is fantastic. Among the impressive elements: player and enemy animations; the surprising variety of environments, including the creative zero-gravity segments; great use of limited resources to increase tension; and the almost completely diegetic and real-time UI, which was easily my favorite part of this game. The design work is really elegant here. The color-coded health indicator on the back of Isaac's suit, his pop-up holographic display for messages/map/inventory/objectives, and the laser path indicator all contribute to the immersion factor - which is doubly important in a horror game. Punishing at times, but ultimately a great experience.
  • LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. This is really Mrs. JPG's baby, but I've been dropping in intermittently to smash some bricks and collect some studs with her. I haven't paid any attention to the Harry Potter universe since the third book, and I've only seen snippets of the movies, so playing the game is a nice opportunity for Mrs. JPG to fill me in on the fiction. It's a bit of a departure from previous LEGO games in that there's very little combat; you're mostly manipulating the environment to solve puzzles, none of which present any challenge. I know the LEGO games are geared toward kids, but LHP seems particularly tuned to the elementary school crowd. Still, although I confess I'm getting a bit LEGO-ed out, it's cute and fun, and developer Traveller's Tales has iterated nicely on their formula, taking the split-screen camera and aiming mechanic from LEGO Indiana Jones 2 and ditching most of the stuff that made that game lousy.
  • Rock Band 2. I bought the package with the game, guitar, drums and mic last year because it was the cheapest way to get instruments for the game I really wanted to play, The Beatles: Rock Band. Except at parties - where Journey, Ratt, and Survivor are surprisingly popular - I've almost entirely neglected RB2. Although it'll always be primarily a party game for me, a few play sessions this month have reminded me it's still a blast to play along with some of my favorite tracks from the Beastie Boys, Beck, and Pearl Jam. And, um, Journey.
  • Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. Yeah, so I'm a little embarrassed at the 30+ hours (!) I've put into this deceptively simple puzzler. Last night I think I inadvertently elbowed the guy next to me on the subway in the gut when I finally beat the three mini-bosses at the end. (I would say sorry, dude, but you were also kinda crushing me against the door.) Clash of Heroes - which has, as far as I can tell, very little if anything to do with the Might & Magic IP - is part JRPG, part Puzzle Quest, and surprisingly tactical. Definitely a must-buy for anyone who dug PQ.
  • Civilization IV. Thank you, Steam sale, for enabling my purchase of this overwhelmingly deep title that I was totally an idiot for not having played before. Since I would prefer my marriage and employment remain intact, I'm consciously limiting my time with this game. Still, just a few more turns and until I can hear Nimoy's smooth baritone again...
  • Alien Swarm. Only played a few rounds of this free co-op mashup of Left 4 Dead and Shadowgrounds, but it was fun and challenging in the same way those games are. Will be excited to see what modders come up with since the source was released with the game.

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