Gears of War 2

For the past few days I’ve been trying to wrap up my thoughts on Gears 2. Without a doubt it’s worthy of the title and succession to the Gears crown. It’s a marked improvement in almost every way. However, the larger questions remain. Does it have substance as well as flash? Does it have a plot or is it a 10 hour Mountain Dew commercial? How does it stack up against others in the FPS cannon? Read on my friends, read on.


MacBook Pro Review

You knew this was coming. The most up-to-date piece of technology in my personal arsenal just had to get reviewed. It’s not all sunshine and apple pies however. There are some serious issues that Apple HQ needs to address.


Glossy Exterior

The MacBook Pro arrived just after we finished our “end of the year” performance reviews. It was like getting candy after going to the doctor’s for a shot.

I’ll talk more about it later as I unwrap its delicious layers of goodness, but for now, here are my first impressions.

For starters, it’s glossy. REALLY glossy. Probably too glossy. This is not a laptop I’d want to watch a movie on, or have to do any serious color correcting of photos. It does however, like a plasma TV, have very rich colors and a deep black, which I’m sure was their intention in doing this. For me, I’m indifferent, I’ll have to have it longer than 5 minutes to give you an impression.

Second, there is a distinctive lack of accessories. As you may know, they’ve gotten rid of the DVI port and replaced it with some crazy new mini-multi-monitor jack that looks like a mini-USB port to be quite honest. That’s wonderful for the aesthetic look of the laptop, but NOTHING uses this port except the brand-new cinema displays. Given that 99% of their users don’t have one of those when they buy a new laptop, you’d figure that Apple would include a short converter cable, or at least a connector, or something. Nope. If you want to hook this laptop up to a $4000 display that you already have, you need to shell out another $30 for an adapter at the Apple store. Seriously? You’re launching new technology and not giving anyone a simple $2 cable? That’s lame. Also missing from the box is the extension portion of the power cable as well as the small Apple Remote that until now, came with nearly everything.

The laptop, the power brick and a cloth to clean the screen were LITERALLY the only things in the box.

I know I’ve never owned a Mac before, but to be quite honest, I was expecting something a little more, I dunno, complete feeling. Maybe it’s the PC in me, but where are the cables, the manuals, the warranty card, the piles of crap I don’t need? While useless, having a pile of crap was reassuring. Getting basically an empty box makes me FEEL like I’m missing something. I know I’m not. I know it’s all here, and the presentation is nice, but it’s like getting a giant heart shaped box of chocolates only to find out that there is only one single piece of candy in the box and the rest is simply packing material.

That said, it is a laptop. It’s not supposed to come with a whole library and a free Big Gulp. It’s fast, it’s silent, it’s got everything on there, ready to go. So, I’m happy. Hopefully this will be a good experience.

Now, pardon me, I have to go to the mall to buy an effing video cable.

Matt out.

King of the Ramen people

I’m a frugal mother-fucker. I don’t like to spend money on myself, with the notable exception of video games, which I consider “therapeutic entertainment”. I wear jeans that have been “busted” because I don’t want to buy new ones for myself. The same goes for shoes. I buy shoes once every five years. The same can be said about lunch. I rarely go out to lunch (on my own dime) because I don’t see it as nessisary. Yes, food itself is necessary, but I don’t see why I need a “nice lunch” when a simple PB&J will do. Or Ramen noodles.

I ate ramen in highschool, college, and now at the office. I’ve sampled every flavor from every major manufacturer. I’ve had ramen in packets, cups, bowls, trays and even frozen “gourmet” ramen in cute little mock-Chinese tack-out containers. I can say, with near perfect certainty, that I’ve had whatever variety of noodle you’re currently thinking of.

So much so, I’ve started rating them. What better way to remind myself which ones I like, than to give them a number. I won’t bore you with a long list, but I can give you some examples. For starters, I can tell you that I prefer the premium “noodles in a tray” variety from Nissin’s Chow Mein line over the more traditional Maruchan. When it comes to dry noodle packets though, Maruchan is still king. In the more obscure categories, containing things like Thai or Vietnamese noodles, I prefer the Simply Asia brand of Pad Thai over things like Thai Kitchen or Taste of Thai. Frozen entrees are also an interesting category, even within brands there can be huge discrepancies between flavors. For example, in the Tai Pei frozen meals product line, the Teriyaki Chicken is quite eatable. The General Tso and Cashew Chicken are absolutely not.

The upside to all this is that even the most expensive asian dish I’ve purchased over the years is cheaper than going down the street and getting a hamburger. I think the “premium” dishes run about $2-2.50. The packets of dry ramen will run your about $0.15. In economic hard times, you can’t beat lunch for $0.15. I think stock in a noodle company is about the only stock I’d buy these days.

(PS: If anyone is vaguely interested, I could actually make a list, complete with ratings, but I’ll hold off unless there is a demand for vast amounts of noodle knowledge that I don’t know about)

Matt out.

Armée De Deux

Now that I’ve finished it, it’s safe to talk about it. That’s my rule. That’s why you haven’t seen a review of half the games from this winter (see previous post for aforementioned rule breaking).

Army of Two isn’t a bad game. At least not in the same way that American Idol Karaoke is a bad game. It’s entertaining, fun to play, has good current-gen graphics and has a fairly interesting storyline.  Army of Two’s problem however is that it just doesn’t try hard enough. Whether this is a direct result of EA putting it “back in the oven” and delaying it a few months to iron out the kinks or if it was actually worse off in the first place will always remain a mystery.

The fact remains that it was a great concept for a game that was unfortunately executed poorly. Let me give you an example. In style, the game closely resembles Gears of War. Third person perspective, lots of swearing, “military” guys kicking ass in a tag-team sort of way. We’re only really swapping aliens for terrorists. Unfortunately, where Gears shines is in things like the cover system, creative camera angles and deeper style. Ao2 has one of the weaker cover systems I’ve seen in a current generation game. Gears, Rainbow and even CoD (which doesn’t have one) put it to shame. You can “slide” towards an object of cover by pressing Y and you’ll grapple on to it in the loosest sense. Pressing Y will also randomly cause you to vault over the object or forward tumble roll towards it. This can happen if you’re already standing near it of course, resulting in equally confused players and AI enemies. You don’t necessarily “look out” from behind cover. Holding the left trigger which lets to you aim, will automatically stand you up and zoom in your sights. I can only assume this was an attempt to save buttons by the developers. It’s a novel concept, but when you’re in the middle of a fire fight with 30 guys surrounding you, standing up and aiming isn’t exactly a brilliant tactic. You’re dead before you can get a shot off. There is an alternative however. Blind firing from behind cover typically produces unworldly results. I’ve scored headshots from 50 yards away by blind firing. This takes realism in the complete opposite direction. No long do you actually need to “aim”, swinging a wild arch of fire around proves sufficient enough. You can imagine my frustration when attempting to “play the game correctly” only to discover it doesn’t really give a shit.

So realism is completely gone. We’ll put that down as a given. Why then, does my super solider need ammo at all? Surely he’s so super awesome to hit people blindly that he doesn’t need actual bullets to do it. Oh no, no, that would be too weird. No you still have to pick up ammo is the typical ways. This is of course, not a law of the universe that’s shared by your partner. At any given time you can tell you partner to lay down cover fire. In doing so he gets the attention (the game calls it “aggro”) of all the enemies allowing you to sneak past or behind someone or something and give it a firm kick in the balls. That’s a great idea, but your partner NEVER runs out of ammo. You, yourself, depending on your gun, usually haave about 250-300 rounds. At 20-30 rounds per mag, you’ve got about 10 mags, give or take. Considering that you’re using your own gun like a fucking bullet hose, you’re always running out of ammo. I spent the vast majority of the game telling my AI buddy to lay down covering fire not so that I could kill bad guys but so that I could sneak around and loot their already dead corpses in peace. At one point I left him firing at will on a hidden enemy, walked away, went to the bathroom, made a sandwich, came back and not only was he still firing, but he hadn’t managed to kill any of the dozen bad guys near us. Useless would be an understatement.

Co-Op is really the only point of this game. It’s single player is so damn short (6 missions???) that it’s hardly worth multiple run throughs except if you’re playing with someone who hasn’t played it before. It’s really the perfect example of what I call a B&B game. Buddies & Beer. It’s the game that you get out when you’ve got 4 or 5 guys over and you feel like blowing some shit up and don’t really care about the specifics. You’re tired of playing 4 player split-tiny-ass-screen Halo and want to try something new. This will keep you entertained for about a 12 pack. Beyond that it’s not worth it any more.

It’s got a smattering of semi-interesting play modes that should keep even the most bored co-op player busy for at least a little while. It is however, kind of pointless to keep replaying the single player missions. After beating the game once you get all the weapons unlocked and all you’re playing towards then is in-game money. The in-game money is used to buy things that don’t make a damn bit of difference… like crappy face masks. Apparently, realizing that changing your mask from “creepy gray” to “creepy green” isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be, the developers decided to entice someone to actually do it by making it an opportunity for achievement points. Oh, and lest I forget the “pimped guns” you can purchase. Ever wanted a gold and diamond crushed AK-47? Yeah, me neither.

In all fairness, I didn’t give the online modes a try. Presumably, that’s where you make the “big bucks” so that you can buy, umm, more masks. I doubt I would have wanted to play with other random XBL users and my buddy Dane (the only person who seemed mildly interested in the game) wasn’t around.

Wrapping this up, it’s not that Ao2 is a bad game, it’s got attitude, humor, stuff blowing up, but when you get down to the finer points, you get more content out of any number of action movies that have been edited for broadcast TV. It’s over too quickly, it has zero re-playability and without friends around to go through it with you, it’s pretty pointless. I think this will be a trade in, and that concept is something I’m against on principle. It would make a fine rental, but beyond that, don’t bother.


2007 Game of the Year

So what if it’s the middle of February, that’s how long it’s taken me to wrap my head around the gaming that was 2007. It was a big year for gaming, well, console gaming at least. PC games had their share of excellence, just unfortunately not as numerous as the consoles.

It’s very hard to pick a favorite game of 2007. I played, roughly 15 games that could, at any given point, have taken home “Game of the Year” honors. All of the following came out in 2007 and deserve a nod towards excellence in one category or another: Bioshock, Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Rock Band, Mass Effect, Guitar Hero 3, Forza 2, Ghost Recon 2, skate, PGR4, Assasin’s Creed, Portal, HL2: Ep2 and Crysis.

For shear amount of “time spent” I was prepared to buck convention and give the nod to a game like Skate. It’s all consuming, fun to play and just “feels right” which is a very important characteristic to have when you’re trying to simulate something as free form as skateboarding. Bioshock certainly dazzled me in terms of it’s level design and overall feel. It’s engaging story, atmosphere and gameplay really make Irrational Games (may they rest in peace) one of the great developers of all time. Then there’s Valve. Sitting here wearing my “The Cake is a Lie” tshirt, it’s hard to argue that if Irrational is “one of” the best, then Valve IS the best. There’s little doubt. No single developer has time and time again delivered such beautiful, high quality products. Everything from the original HalfLife right up to Portal has literally shaped the way I play and enjoy video games. There is no bar higher.

That might sound like I’ve already decided a winner, but there are a few more games to consider. Call of Duty for example, was without a doubt the best entry into that series. It’s multiplayer (especially on XBL) is so mind-numbingly simple to get involved with that it deserves major points. Not to mention the fun the single player campaign was. Mass Effect was also brilliant. I would have considered giving it the nod but realizing it’s merely the first in a trilogy assures me that the best is yet to come. Everything else is icing on the delicious slice of gaming cake… which is a lie…

So, does multiplayer win out over story telling? Does FPS trump all? Do you want me to just shut up and tell you?

Envelope please….

And the winner is….