Sunday, May 30, 2010

Not Getting It

There are two reactions when you feel like you're "not getting" games everyone else "gets": smug pride or vague embarrassment. Personally, I tend toward the latter; there's no lack of the former in gamer culture. The tough part is figuring out whether the disconnects I experience are valid, or if I just suck at games.

I should add that I'm not snobby about games, either: I harbor no innate disdain for Popular Game Everyone is Playing just because It's Popular and Everyone is Playing It. If I'm not playing that game, it's probably because I just don't have the budget or time for it, or it's in a genre I'm not particularly interested in. Totally cool if it's your cup of tea, though.

While I understand music snobbery to a degree - I grew up a musician, and it's still insulting to see what passes for "music" in pop culture - I can't quite process game snobbery. Unlike some others, I'm not the type to judge you if I see Bombastic Military Shooter or Annual Sports Franchise: Current Year on your games played list. (This is kinda strange for me, because I sure as hell will judge you if I see Lady Gaga on your iPod.) So when I say I don't get the games listed below, please understand that's not for lack of trying.

I realize I'm not the first person to say I didn't get Grand Theft Auto IV, for example. Or to say I thought the driving controls were incredibly wonky for a game with the word "Auto" in the title, or that the missions were more frustrating and meandering than challenging and exploratory, or that the characters were naturally sociopaths, but not of the endearingly likable variety. Trust me, I wanted to get GTA IV. I loved all the little details - the poorly-constructed fake in-game websites, the blowhard nationalist talk show hosts, the use of an outdated cellphone as the menu interface. The whole "moral depravity" thing was never an issue, either; once the title screen came up, my brain said, "oh, it's GTA," and that was that.

Here's the problem: I almost never abandon games. I abandoned GTA IV maybe 7 hours in. I've dug other open-world games, games with worlds much less fleshed-out and satirical and expansive than Liberty City. So what gives? Am I just bad at driving over hookers and murdering drug dealers? Or is there a deeper disconnect that goes beyond my skill level?

Similarly, I want to say it's because I suck at shooters that Halo 3 bored me to tears. I'm not great at FPSes, but I enjoy the genre and can usually manage to not finish dead last in multiplayer matches. Admittedly, I'm not a big multiplayer fan, especially with the Halo series, where anyone without 30-50 free hours a week to practice is automatically at a disadvantage. Still, Halo 3 - which, I confess, I bought used maybe a year and a half after it released - just didn't click for me. Nothing was mechanically wrong with the game; the usual Bungie tightness of control was there, the familiar weapons and enemies and vehicles all felt perfectly tuned, and the visuals looked terrific on my new HDTV. But the game left me disappointed, and not because it necessarily did anything wrong. I'm sure it was partly my fault for expecting a Halo title to be super-invested in its campaign mode. It's like using a circular saw to chop vegetables: sure, it can do that, but that's not really its primary function.

Probably my worst offense, as far as not liking widely adored games goes, is Super Mario 64. I know I'm not the only one who prefers my Mario in 2D, but I just couldn't force myself through this one. I even bought it for the DS a few months ago just to give it another try, and couldn't get into it on that system either. On both the N64 and DS, the camera controls are awkward at best, the objectives are not immediately clear or compelling, and while the familiar Mario feel is there, I'm just not understanding what made this game so beloved. While I'm sure the pseudo-open world setting was revolutionary at the time, maybe Super Mario 64 suffers from the overinflating effects of nostalgia. Or maybe I'm just not good at 3D platformers (spoiler: I'm not).

This all comes up because I'm playing through Alan Wake right now, and despite the fact that I'm really enjoying the structure, atmosphere, and story, I can't help feeling I'm doing something wrong. Almost every review I've read praises the control responsiveness, but I can't get Alan to do the damn dodge move properly to, um, save my life. And while I agree that the environments and lighting are beyond gorgeous - I haven't seen many prettier vistas - I can't get over the character animations. Probably because the rest of the game is so pretty, the characters look especially stiff and awkward in comparison. In the opening episode, Alan's wife looks like C3P0 with her permanently open mouth that remains largely motionless when she speaks. Since Alan Wake has been in development so long, part of me wonders if the character animations were done using a while ago using old tech. The facial animations in Half-Life 2 blow Alan Wake's out of the water, which is weird since Valve's game is six years older. I rezalize I'm nitpicking - I do still like the game, after all - but I can't help wondering: are my reactions valid, or is my "not getting it" my own damn fault?

See, that's the issue. It's irritating when people say a game or movie or book just "didn't work" for them, but then can't or won't discuss why not. So when something doesn't click for me, I always try to articulate why not. Most of the time, this is a painless enough process; my opinions are my own, and I stick by them. But when my not getting it conflicts with everyone else getting it, there's always that little doubt: what if I don't get it because I just suck?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Links

Here's the roundup for this week, kiddos:
  • From PopMatters, an analysis of the juxtaposition of idealized Americana and post-apocalyptic gloom in Fallout 3 and BioShock.
  • From the Infinite Lag Stupid Pun Department, Troy Goodfellow takes a close look at how camera zoom levels influence and/or are influenced by gameplay in strategy games.
  • From Cracked.com, 5 Reasons It's Still Not Cool to Admit You're a Gamer is one part bemusing and one part sobering.
  • From Gamasutra, an article on how we identify with and "become" the game characters we play as.
  • From Kotaku, a report on an odd study suggesting gamers are more inclined to be lucid dreamers. (Incidentally, your own Humble Narrator here is one!)
And this week, a very special non-game-related link:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

More With Less

It's hard to believe it's only been a few short years since the airlines all jumped on the checked bag fees bandwagon. Remember the incredible consumer outrage as this was becoming an industry-wide practice? The vitriol from the legions of weary passengers, already sick and tired of cramped legs, $14 prepackaged sandwiches, screaming babies, cancellations, delays, layovers, suspicious looks from TSA agents? The absolute despair that this one last perk of air travel - free luggage - was now, like those complimentary peanuts of old, being so heartlessly snatched away, with the perverse justification that this of all things was the only solution that would keep fares low?

Yeah, me neither.

The very fact that Southwest has an entire ad campaign based around the fact that they're the only major airline still not charging baggage fees should tell you all you need to know about how resigned we've become to paying extra for stuff we didn't have to pay extra for last week.

Which brings us, of course, to this EA Online Pass thing.

If you're reading this, you already know what the Online Pass idea is. In order to play your new EA Sports Game online, you need to enter the code found in the box. Bought it used? Just $10 will get you a fresh new code. Yeah, you used to be able to play a used copy of Popular Annual Football Franchise online for free, but come on. Maintaining those servers is expensive for the 18 month grace period before EA shuts 'em down forever.

Look, I get it. Like the airlines, publishers are in kind of an impossible situation. By nature of the business, operating costs are astronomical and getting worse, often due to factors out of the company's control. Yet customers still demand low prices, plus all the perks they've been accustomed to for years. It's the old do more with less cliché. There has to be a trade-off somewhere if the company is to stay afloat, let alone be profitable.

Publishers and developers have to find a way around the Used Game Problem. We know that. We're getting used to being incentivized with pre-order bonuses and Day One DLC and weird reward systems. We've known for a while that those peanuts won't be complimentary forever.

Problem is, we're still getting screwed.

GameStop says the Online Pass will actually help their business. Color me unsurprised. So not only will they only discount used games by their typical pitiful $5, they'll also stock EA Online Pass code cards on the neighboring shelf. For your convenience.

I'm not upset that EA or GameStop want to make money. That's why they exist. You could argue that both companies are taking proactive measures to protect, and even grow, their market share. If I were an investor, I'd be glad they're addressing these vulnerabilities - used game sales cutting into profits for EA, and new game sales cutting into obscene used game profit margins for GameStop.

That said, the Online Pass is still a pretty lousy idea. Both Mike Schramm and Bill Harris lay out some pretty convincing reasons why. You should read their posts. Check out the May 11th Giant Bombcast, too, for a great discussion on this topic (skip to about 1:05 in).

These gents all make a variety of excellent points, but what it comes down to for me - yet again - is the difference between reward and punishment. The Online Pass doesn't feel like a reward for buying new. It enables a feature that should already have been enabled. It adds no value for new game buyers, but instead removes value for both used and new game buyers, who might, as is their right, wish to resell the product sometime in the future. This is a punitive measure, not an incentivizing one. And that's kinda dumb, considering that gamers - never the least entitled-acting people in the world - tend to be just a little sensitive about feeling "punished."

I have really mixed feelings about EA lately. They've released some absolutely brilliant games across different genres in the last year, from The Beatles: Rock Band last September to Dragon Age, Mass Effect 2, and Bad Company 2 more recently. I can't imagine any of those titles were cheap to produce. I've already written about how much I liked the value-add propositions for buying ME2 and Dragon Age new. Hell, EA even emerged a winner from the Infinity Ward/Activision fiasco, inking the new Respawn Entertainment studio and trumpeting their EA Partners division as a peace-and-love alternative to Activision's overbearing evil corporation.

This is even more ironic considering how widely vilified EA was just a few years ago. Honestly, I can't decide if I like EA's or the NBA's image-rehabbing more.

So, EA, why'd you have to go and pull a Gilbert Arenas on us?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Links

Some great finds around the web this week, all about crossing boundaries and breaking down barriers. Please to enjoy.
  • A cool thesis project in which the author creates female character models for Team Fortress 2 and raises some interesting questions about gender in game design.
  • Terrific piece from The Escapist about being a gamer with OCD. Read this especially carefully if you're one of those people who needs help seeing past stereotypes.
  • I don't entirely agree with everything in this Kotaku feature on the problems with lumping games into genres, but it's worth a read, if only to prompt some critical thinking about how what we call games translates into how we interact with them and with each other.
  • From the same publication, a profile of scientist brothers who decided to make a zombie game for the iPhone/iPod Touch - and pulled off a David-and-Goliath-style victory over major publishers on the sales charts.
  • My old college pal Mike Schramm gives us a great preview of the odd conglomeration that is the "Cyber Renaissance" art style of the upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
  • This post from The Brainy Gamer reads between the lines of NYT game critic Seth Schiesel's most effusive reviews to show us a "journalist advocate" desperately trying to break down the wall separating videogames from mainstream respect.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tale of the Tape: Battle of Forli vs. Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Final Verdict

INAUGURAL TALE OF THE TAPE WINNER: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned

Ready for some heavy-duty pontificating? Told you I would get there. Here we go!

To recap, Dr. Ned is superior in nearly every way to Battle of Forli, but mostly because it:
  • Provides significant variety in environments, enemies, and objectives without radically altering the core gameplay mechanics
  • Adds substantial additional content (maps, new enemy types, mini-narratives) to the game world
  • Has a tone consistent with, but not overly reliant on, the ethos of the core game
  • Is modular, meaning it can be completed on its own as a sort of miniature version of the core game and/or slotted into the core game's narrative without feeling like a "deleted scene"
I think what disappointed me most about Battle of Forli was not its lack of size or variety, but that it felt like a baldly cynical move on Ubisoft's part.

In Assassin's Creed II, the narrative progresses the player through a series of numbered "DNA Sequences," two of which are "missing" in the core game. The DLC, naturally, fills in these gaps, which exist not at the very end of the sequence, but near the conclusion. This might seem like a trivial distinction - Battle of Forli and the other DLC episode, Bonfire of the Vanities, are sequences 12 and 13 of 14 - but I think the placement of these episodes in the overall narrative is important.

There are a few possible reasons why the episodes weren't simply tacked on to the end of the main narrative, all of which make sense:
  • The narrative is one of the strengths of ACII, and it deserved a satisfying conclusion; tacking on episodes afterward might feel, well, tacky. Doing so also would require some convoluted story machinations to maintain continuity.
  • Placing the missing sequences before the final sequence, especially visually, where they're shown on the pause screen, subliminally reinforces to the player that his/her ACII experience is not "complete" until s/he has purchased the DLC. It's a lot easier, psychologically, to ignore an "epilogue" than a "missing chapter."
  • These episodes were originally part of the core game's narrative, but like deleted scenes in a movie, were cut due to time, story, or technology constraints. (This scenario seems unlikely; these days, planning for DLC occurs at the start of the development cycle. If they were cut, it was because it had been the plan from the beginning to cut them.)
Okay, so why does this tactic still feel cynical? After all, it's what we'd expect from DLC - a bite-size chunk of gameplay that isn't essential to the core game experience, but adds more of what players love. It's exactly what is advertised.

It's cynical because ACII is the first console single-player game, to my knowledge, that openly makes you think you don't have the complete story with your retail disc alone.

The bottom line is there's no value-add proposition in Battle of Forli. You get nothing other than the new quests and chunk of story. That's okay, of course - it is what it is, and it's priced appropriately. That said, it still feels like a cheap move. I'm not averse to paying for additional content. I'm averse to being made to feel I'm being punished if I don't pay for additional content.

There's a big difference between the thinking behind ACII's DLC plans and those of other recent AAA examples. Both Broken Steel for Fallout 3 and The Secret Armory of General Knoxx for Borderlands add new narrative while also changing a core mechanic of the game - raising the level cap, in these cases. In this sense there's a value-add that goes beyond "more of the same game we love." This helps justify the higher price tag ($10-15) and deflate some of the natural skepticism consumers have come to expect about DLC.

The Cerberus Network content for Mass Effect 2 and The Stone Prisoner for Dragon Age: Origins add new characters that can be helpful in your main quest, but are not made to feel essential to the main narrative. These two DLC packs are equally obvious in their purpose - to get consumers to buy the games new, thus reducing EA's losses from the used games market. The key difference is that this strategy rewards consumers for the desired behavior rather than making a punitive implication for not doing the desired behavior (i.e., you could not buy the DLC, but look at these two gaping holes in the DNA sequence).

Might seem like semantics, but it's a critical distinction from a psychological point of view. We may not consciously realize we're being influenced in this way, but I think the underlying implications nevertheless go a long way in shaping consumers' feelings toward the developers and publishers. More to come on this topic in a future post.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tale of the Tape: Battle of Forli vs. Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Part 3

Round 3: Value
This is a tough Arbitrarily Selected Criterion to score. Frankly, I don't want to touch the "how do you quantify value?" debate. Is it number of hours played? Geographic scope of the game world? Number of quests or levels to complete? Or some other arcane combination of factors?

The fact that it's DLC we're considering complicates matters. Unlike most full retail releases, there is a highly variable pricing structure for DLC. For any given player, the "value" of a piece of DLC can't be entirely divorced from his/her experience with the core game. So not only is it tricky to judge the DLC on its own merits, we've also got a whole bunch of baggage to sift through as well.

And, of course, any discussion of "value" is always subject to an individual's tolerance for spending money. How much game should I get for $5? For $10? How about even smaller price point increments? You can see how this gets dicey.

All that said: here goes.

I purchased Battle of Forli shortly after it released in January, at its asking price of 320 MS Spacebucks, or $4. Since most playable DLC - not just skins, new weapons, etc. - for AAA titles like Assassin's Creed II is priced at the $7 price point at the very least, I was impressed at what seemed like an outlier. It felt like a solid impulse buy, whereas DLC at a higher price point gave me more pause. The $4 price tag felt just right for a bite-size piece of additional content, which Battle certainly is: less than an hour was more than enough time to complete it. If it didn't add new maps or enemies or quest types, so be it; at $4, that's not really what it's intended to do.

Put another way, if this DLC is about 1 hour long, and ACII is about 10 hours long, I'd expect to pay 10% of the price of the retail game for 10% extra game. Of course, that kind of math falls apart for a game like Mass Effect 2, which one could easily spend 40-50 hours on; the Kasumi's Stolen Memory DLC, at $7, is hardly 10% more ME2, so the value proposition doesn't hold. Besides, we then get into that problem of quantifying what "more game" means based primarily on length, which is a whole other issue.

I waited until a 50% off sale in April to purchase Dr. Ned, when I snagged it for 400 Spacebucks, or $5. Again, an easy impulse buy at this price point. In terms of the above equation, I think I got much more bang for my buck (pun intended) than with Battle. I probably spent a good 5-7 hours in Jakobs Cove, although a good chunk of that was grinding out the interminable "Braaaaaains!" quest. Which I obviously HAD to finish.

At the original price of $10, I'd still judge Dr. Ned a good value, but not just because of its length. As said in my earlier posts, the DLC gives you several new maps and enemy types, and the atmosphere adds some needed variety to the core game. It's clear Dr. Ned was a true add-on to Borderlands, whereas Battle of Forli was explicitly a "deleted scene" from ACII.

That said, I don't know if I would've bought Dr. Ned at $10. For whatever reason, $5 seems to be my cutoff point for DLC. I wonder if that has to do with the $10 per pack I shelled out for all five of the Fallout 3 add-ons. No question those were true expansions, but that game ended up costing me $110 in total. I still haven't finished Mothership Zeta; after 100+ hours in post-nuclear America, I think the luster started to wear off. (Imagine that!) There is such a thing as beating a game into the ground with too much content. Which makes me prematurely regret buying the Awakening expansion for Dragon Age: Origins - especially when I'm not even close to finishing the core game.

But I digress. I'm calling Round 3 here a draw. For all intents and purposes, the price of Dr. Ned was $10, and I just got a good deal. Battle of Forli may not have offered anything new to the ACII experience, but I do think it is closer to what DLC is becoming - a small chunk of game that probably could have been included on the disc, but wasn't, for financial or technical reasons. At $4, I won't complain about that. Bump up that price a few dollars, though, and I get more cautious. And $15? Forget it. With so many amazing (full) games on Steam for $10 or less, asking $15 for DLC on a console is flat-out ridiculous.

In terms of value, once DLC hits that $10 price point, I'm expecting something equivalent to what I can get on Steam: not just a deleted scene that really only appeals to the game's superfans, but a fully-featured module that adds variety to the core game experience and can mostly stand on its own.

Let me stress, however, that I am all about developers getting paid. They work hard to produce quality content, and they deserve to be compensated fairly. I realize that piracy and used games sales cut into publisher revenue, and thus developer paychecks. The expectation that DLC should be free, or cheap as free, is kind of silly, especially if you expect the DLC to meet the criteria in the above paragraph.

Tune in tomorrow for the final verdict - which should be painfully obvious at this point - and more shameless pontificating about DLC, business strategy, and what it all means for consumers.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Links

Only have time for a few quick ones today:
  • Judging by this Gamasutra interview, CliffyB sounds like a dude you might actually want to work for.
  • Mark Cullinane makes a strong case for why the newest Medal of Honor game, set in the current conflict in Afghanistan, should make us feel uncomfortable. (Personally, I have a hard time with shooters set in real-world conflicts, past or present - a topic I'll explore in detail in a future post.)
  • A great piece from GamePro on the impact of Metacritic by the inimitable Julian Murdoch.
  • I can't stop watching this dude's compendium of Mortal Kombat fatalities.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Quick Update

Brought home an unexpected souvenir from vacation: a nasty cold. It's the gift that keeps on giving, if Mrs. JPG's 101-degree fever yesterday was any indication.

Acclimating to the real world has been especially difficult this time, since I arrived back in Boston to a larger-than-usual pile of work. So much for me thinking I can take a week off, you know, ever.

Okay, deep breath. There, that's better.

Now then. For obvious reasons I don't anticipate having any semblance of regular or meaningful content to share in the next several days, which means the thrilling conclusion to the DLC Tale of the Tape will have to wait.

In its stead, permit me to offer the following choice tidbits, and then retire gracefully with my NyQuil.

  • The two Mass Effect books by Drew Karpyshyn didn't disappoint. They were pretty...Mass Effect-y. The second book, Ascension, was particularly interesting in that it fills in some of the backstory about Cerberus and the Illusive Man prior to the events of Mass Effect 2. I'm actually glad I read the book after having completed the game; it made me that much more invested in the story and provided some much-needed context about the Illusive Man in particular. Anyone else have a similar experience?
  • Speaking of ME2, I started a second playthrough as a custom female Shepard yesterday. I'd played both games as the default male Shepard previously. I like the voice actress, but man, it feels frakkin' weird. It's like watching Angelina Jolie play Jason Bourne or something.
  • Valve released the Steam Mac client today. Portal is free until May 24. And there was much rejoicing.
  • Beginning to think my recent purchase (on sale, naturally) of BioShock 2 might've been a mistake. I just can't seem to get into it so far - maybe 2 hours in. Which is a shame, since Mrs. JPG loved sharing the first BioShock experience with me and wants to see every minute of the second, but it's just been tough for me to work up the motivation to jump into it. Granted, I'm playing on Hard difficulty, but combat feels punishing in a cheap kind of way: Subject Delta is inexplicably weak, trap rivets are largely useless, and splicers' attacks seem inordinately effective. I definitely suck at twitchy FPSes, so I'll cop to the very real possibility that my own lack of skill is a problem - but still, come on. My dude is a walking tank and he gets taken down by a 90-pound flapper with a wrench? Sure, he might have just woken up after 10 years, but he's still in a thick-ass iron suit, right? That ought to count for something.
  • So I downloaded Dr. Mario Express for the DSi before we left. This turned out to be the best decision I've made in a long time. What a perfect little game Dr. Mario was/is. The 15 DS carts I took along never left my backpack. It always amazes me when simple puzzle/logic games completely outclass their AAA brethren.
Alright, off to medicate. Will post again when I can breathe out of my nose.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Off to Elsewhere

This morning Mrs. JPG and I are off to a tropical island for a week's vacation. I may or may not be bringing two Mass Effect novels to read on the beach. What? Like you're one to judge.

Unlike most licensed-property tie-in books, I actually expect these to be good: they're by Drew Karpyshyn, senior writer for BioWare and lead writer on both Mass Effect games and Knights of the Old Republic.

I'll fully admit I was suckered into purchasing these by the little Easter egg in Mass Effect 2, where Shepard can buy e-books (or space-books, or whatever) by "the human writer Drew Karpyshyn" from one of the stores (on Omega, maybe?). Until I reached that point in the game, it had never occurred to me that there would be Mass Effect novels. Which is strange, because they still sell StarCraft and Diablo II novels at Barnes & Noble.

A few months ago I read Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing (thank you, awesome Minuteman Public Library system), which was an interesting look behind the scenes at the business of writing for games. The sheer number of types of writing that need to be done for a AAA title - dialogue, character sketches, story outlines, cutscene scripts, design docs, manuals, in-game tutorials, codex entries and supplemental artifacts - was pretty overwhelming. As were the logistics: most game writers are not in a great situation like Karpyshyn's, where they're part of a dedicated team with specific roles. Instead, they're often off-site consultants who are tasked with reading designers' minds and interpreting the vagaries of design docs to construct some kind of coherent narrative - without having direct access to the actual game itself as it is being built. And since gameplay always trumps story, they better have zero ego.

Given all that, it's kind of a miracle any big-name game has a coherent story. Let alone incredibly rich universes and characters like those of Mass Effect, Fallout, and BioShock.

I'm interested to see what Karpyshyn does with the Mass Effect universe in book form. I wonder if it's more or less challenging for him, and other game writers, to work in the more traditional format of a novel. It's either very liberating or very daunting, I suspect.

After an unfortunate trip a few years ago when all I had to read on the beach was The Scarlet Letter, I vowed to never again bring a book on vacation that would require the least bit of thought. Here's hoping Karpyshyn can prove that declaration wrongheaded. Because I tried Angels & Demons, and not thinking really, really sucks.

Have a great first week of May - see you back in the real world next Tuesday.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tale of the Tape: Battle of Forli vs. Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Part 2

ROUND 2: Scope
Battle of Forli doesn't take us to any new places. Literally. You'll revisit the Forli map, where you had previously completed a short mission to rescue the apparently hydrophobic Catarina from, um, a few feet of water. (It's especially strange, then, that this same damsel in distress becomes a knife-wielding combatant who has no problem battling multiple enemies at once in the DLC.) Although you'll get to climb a couple buildings you might not have climbed before, the DLC adds no new maps, which I found disappointing. You'll get to complete six new missions, plus an optional bonus sequence on Leonardo's flying machine. These are all straightforward affairs which, while true to the ACII recipe, don't add much variety to the core game. The animations during the cutscenes are up to ACII's high standard, but the lack of new enemy types and the unmemorable antagonists, the Orci brothers, dull the experience. While Battle of Forli provides a welcome return to Ezio's world, it would have been nice if it took us to a new place in that world.

In contrast, The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned offers four new maps, 25 new missions, the new enemy types and bosses described in the last entry, and a few fun surprises. One of these was the return of a previously introduced character - I won't spoil it, but you'll recognize this person right away. If you pay attention, there are a bunch of hilarious Easter eggs here too, including references to Thriller and Scooby-Doo. I found myself laughing out loud a couple of times, which made me appreciate the effort that went into creating these little moments. Oh, and those of us with Achievement/Trophy fetishes will also enjoy the five new ones Dr. Ned adds, especially in contrast to the zero offered by Battle of Forli. Overall, there's a lot of new content and variety here, adding several hours of gameplay and new opportunities to level up your character. Nothing about Dr. Ned felt tacked-on; while Battle of Forli is the videogame equivalent of a deleted scene on a DVD - something the very conceit of the "missing memory" makes obvious - Dr. Ned is a true extension of the core game, something added to the experience, not something taken away and then shoehorned back in for a few bucks.

ROUND 2 WINNER: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned