Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Rotation, September 2010

The terrifying fact that September is over is somewhat mitigated by the great games I've played this month:

XBOX 360
  • Finally(!), Dragon Age: Origins goes down. Think I clocked in at about 55 hours for this first playthrough. At some point I will go back and play through the other origin stories; I have to be in a certain mood, I find, to put the DA disc in the drive, but once I do, time disappears. The expansion pack Awakening is sitting unopened on my shelf, but I think I'll let it sit a while longer before diving in. I need something a little less serious, like...
  • Dead Rising 2. Check yesterday's post for initial impressions. Will reserve further judgment until I've progressed more.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. Inspired by Matt Weise's recent post praising this game, I jumped on Amazon and snagged the 360 update, the 2-fer pack of Butcher Bay and Assault on Dark Athena. I'd played Butcher Bay on the original Xbox and had been pleasantly surprised; playing through it again, I have to agree with Matt that this game is way ahead of its time in a number of ways. It's pretty brilliant, actually, despite what one might expect from a game starring Vin Diesel. Look for a post soon on how Riddick anticipates, and in some ways exceeds, its spiritual successor, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
  • Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. This well-produced co-op platformer/beat-em-up/puzzler was great fun, mostly because it provided Mrs. JPG multiple opportunities to watch me, at her urging, plunge off cliffs to my death. "Okay, you jump, and I'll catch you with the grappling hook." "Are you sure? Because the last 13 times..." "No, no, really, this time I mean it!" Mmm-hm.
  • Shadow Complex. After finishing Guardian of Light, I jumped back in for another playthrough of the standout game of last summer. I was curious, after having just completed another terrific downloadable title, how well this one would hold up. Short answer: very well. In the coming weeks, I'll do a Tale of the Tape series comparing these two games, which I think are terrific examples of the most exciting new trend in the console space.
  • Civilization IV. Booted 'er up again to cope with Civ V envy, and hot damn is this a great game. There is something uniquely satisfying about not only building an empire, butcharting its course over centuries through political, technological, religious, economic, and military policy. It's hard to believe this is one of the few strategy games that truly understands that being a world power is not simply about military conquest. There is so much going on in the background of Civ games that it's really a staggering achievement of programming; it's a shame the fetishizing of "graphics" detracts attention from the genius of game systems. Although Civ can be daunting - there's definite information overload for someone new to the franchise - I think I've finally turned a corner and become a convert. And as evidence, I present my recent portable game of choice...
  • Civilization: Revolution. Sort of a weird iteration on the formula, isn't it? While Civ Rev contains a number of simplifications, it is surprisingly challenging, especially on the harder difficulty settings. I love the fact that these games force me to put them down; I know I'm not the first to dumbly stagger into the realization that you can't play a Civ game in one sitting, but it is remarkable how much time and attention investment the franchise encourages and expects. Because it's so well done, it pulls this off in a way, say, JRPGs often don't. But for a counter-example...
  • Dragon Quest I. Ostensibly as "research" for an essay I'm writing, I downloaded this classic to re-experience my favorite NES game as a child, Dragon Warrior. Turns out the ROM I got was apparently a hack of the GBA port of Dragon Quest I & II. Whatever. This was my first and best experience with an RPG, and the addictive kill monsters-level up-get gold-buy loot-kill stronger monsters progression ages well. There's always been a certain simple elegance to this game as opposed to the others in the series; once you add a party, that removes the peculiarly compelling sense of loneliness, which is what I latched onto twenty years ago. I have a lot more to say about this one, but I'll hold off for now.
  • Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. I remember downloading this ROM in college - the actual cartridge itself was so rare in the US I would've never played it otherwise - and getting inexplicably hooked. This is a bizarre-ass game, a weirdly charming hybrid RPG/RTS/Tarot card-sim that can be both extraordinarily punishing and rewarding. If Diablo is a loot-grab, Ogre Battle is a, and sorry if this sounds vaguely dirty, unit-grab? There's a strange thrill to recruiting new characters and assembling little divisions of your army. I haven't met many other people who've played this one, so please give a shout if you have - would love to compare notes. And finally, as if it wasn't strange enough, the game is also named after two Queen songs. I mean, that's pretty freakin' rad.

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