Spider-Man, Spider-Man

Does whatever a spider can.

Watching the reruns of the 1967 animated series in the 80’s was my first exposure to Spider-Man, and the theme song from the show is usually the first thing that pops into my head when I think of the character. He was my favorite superhero as a kid, more than either Superman or Batman (although Batman was a close second). So when I saw a preview of the new game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions as few months ago, I preordered it from Amazon.

It showed up on Tuesday this week and I’ve played about four hours so far. My initial impression is: great game, I’m having a lot of  fun, but I’m a little disappointed.

The graphics are absolutely amazing. The game looks very very good, both the world and the animations. Beenox has really managed to make the comic book art-style come alive. Playing in the game is like being in a comic book, but it looks and feels like a real world. What’s more, each of the four universes: Amazing, Ultimate, Noir, and 2099; have their own recognizable style both in graphics and dialog.

click for a larger image

Besides the graphics, the voice acting is also very well done. Neil Patrick Harris does the voice for Amazing Spider-Man (he did the voice for Spider-Man in the New Animated Series). Christopher Barnes does voices Spider-Man Noir and originally worked on the original animated series from 1994. Josh Keaton is the voice for Ultimate Spider-man (he did Spider-Man in the 2008 Spectacular Spider-Man show), and Dan Gilvezan voices Spider-Man 2099 (he did Spider-Man in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends from the 80’s). Of the four, Neil is my most favorite and Gilvezan is my least. They all do a quality job and have good dialog, but something about Gilvezan’s voice bothers me (while I wrote that part after the tutorial, after the first 2099 mission his voice is starting to grow on me). Oh yeah, and Stan Lee narratives, and it totally fits.

Beyond the sights and sounds, the action is fun but linear. The game opens with a tutorial mission that sets up the conflict of the story and introduces you to each of the four Spider-Men. Once that’s completed the first four stages are unlocked, one for each universe. When you pick a stage you select a difficulty level (easy, normal, hard). When you finish the stage, the game rates you on speed, use of combos, and how many collectibles you found. All completed stages are marked with which difficulties you’ve completed (so if you finish a stage on normal, then easy and normal are filled in). Each stage also has a dozen or so challenges that you can complete for bonus points (which are used for combat and character upgrades). The stages/ so far, are linear starting with an encounter with a villain and progressing through a series of areas to a final boss battle. Re-playability is limited to playing again on a higher difficulty or playing to finish a challenge that was missed (some of them are optional and some aren’t).

I’ve finished the first four stages (all on normal), which completes Act 1 and unlocks a cut-scene and the next four stages.

While I’ve really enjoyed the game so far, the disappointment I mentioned above is in the linearity. This is completely a problem of my own expectations. After I preordered the game I put it on my media black-out list. My assumption was that like most (all?) of the recent Spider-Man games it would have an open explorable world to web-swing through and include a series of story-line missions. If I’d thought it through, I would’ve realized this isn’t really possible considering there are four different universes to populate, which have been a ton of work I’m sure.

So my disappointment with the game has nothing to do with the game itself, but is just from a mismatch between reality and assumption.

I’ll write a follow-up, once I finish the game.

Busy Week

It’s going to be an exciting week!

Star Trek Online has really hit it’s stride recently with their weekly episodes, so I’m very much looking forward to the third episode of the Deferi-Breen arc on Saturday.

Lord of the Rings Online free-to-play (or free-to-try as I like to think of it) launch starts on Friday, the 10th, but I’ll be in headstart on the 8th, which is for current subscribers and F2P beta players. While, I’m looking forward to getting into the new zone, I’m still ambivalent about the store and LUA changes. Still, the sooner the changes launch, the sooner we’ll see how it impacts the Landroval server community.

My Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions preorder is in the mail. Of all of the super heroes in the Marvel and DC universes, Spider-Man has always been my favorite, and I’m really hoping that this game will be more like Spider-Man 2 and not Web of Shadows.

I finally finished all of the available Mass Effect 2 DLC last week, just in time to pickup and play the Lair of the Shadow Broker which should release today. Like I mentioned last week, my excitement level tripled when I saw the trailer for the new content, it looks epic.

As if all of the gaming stuff wasn’t enough, I got an email from Amazon promising that my Kindle should arrive this week. I’m looking forward to spending some time with it and see if this whole ebook thing is for me or not.

ME2 Lair of the Shadow Broker

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Mass Effect 2 DLC, Lair of the Shadow Broker, ever since it was announced. Now that I’ve seen the video for it, I’m very very excited. It looks really good. I can’t wait for the 7th, although it would’ve been nice to have it for the holiday weekend.

Of course the burning question now is: what will happen with my Sheppard’s romances? He was with Liara in the first game, but now he’s with Tali.

One Bullet Down

Scratch Crackdown 2 off yesterday’s list.

I spent an hour with the demo and did not have fun. It may have just been a bad demo, the game may actually be just as great as the first one, but I’m not planning to order it until I see what some other gamer-friends think of it.

The demo really felt like they gave you a beginning of the game character and dropped you into the middle of the game.

Decisions, Decisions

I may be switching to console mode again for a few days. Why?

  • Transformers: War for Cybertron is on it’s way from Amazon and should be here by Thursday.
  • There’s the freshly downloaded Crackdown 2 demo on my Eilte’s hard-drive begging to be played.
  • Mass Effect 2 has three DLC’s piled up that I’ve barely touched.
  • Red Dead Redemption has some new and free CO-OP maps.

There’s lots to do on the Xbox 360.

Then again, poor Cimmerian Brynulf has been trapped in Tortage for weeks longer than he should have been, and he’s only one quest away from escaping.

Bullet points provided courtesy of Anjin, Inc.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption: good or bad? Neither, it’s awesome! To illustrate how much I like this game let me give you the list of Xbox 360 games I’ve completed: Crackdown, Fable 2, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Red Dead Redemption. That is a very small subset of the 360 games I own, so any game that I actually finish before I lose interest and move on is something special.

I finished on Sunday evening, the in-game stats read that I’ve complete 96% of the game and spent 5+ days playing. The percentage seems about right given the number of unlocks and side-quests I’ve done, but the time played can’t be right. Raptr has me clocked in at 44 hours, which seems more accurate to me. Just as a comparison to Rockstar’s last game, I played GTA 4 for about 3 hours.


Whoops! It’s Friday?

So, um yeah, I guess it’s Friday already. I had big plans for an AoC post and a few other things this week. Apparently this week had other plans for me. So instead, I present you with the following summary, excuses, and cuteness.

My Age of Conan retry was going very well up until Wednesday, that’s when UPS delivered my copy of Red Dead Redemption. I’d been waiting to post my thoughts until I’d escaped from Tortage, but, as a summary, my ranger Brynulf has reached level 19 and is near the end of his destiny quest.

My Xbox hasn’t gotten much use since I finished Mass Effect 2, but Red Dead Redemption has had me hooked the last few nights. This game was completely not on my radar. Scott from Pumping Irony asked my via Raptr a few days ago if I was getting it, so I took a look. Hmmm, a Rock Star open world shooter like GTA 4? Probably not something I’ll enjoy, I played the last GTA game for less than a day. I decided to check out a couple of game play videos anyway, and based on what I saw, I ordered it. So far, no regrets. Well except for a lack of sleep.

Besides RDR, I’ve had some real life stuff distracting me from writing. On Wednesday, my dad had his 62 birthday, and my sister also had her second child, both on the same day. Getting your third grandson, that’s a nice birthday present. Yesterday was my fourth wedding anniversary, and tonight we have a babysitter and dinner plans.

So, that’s that. I do have several drafts waiting for attention, so week should be a busy one.

Mass Affected

This is a non-spoiler post. Please keep the comments spoiler free as well.

I finished Mass Effect 2, and it was even better than the first one!

I’m a reader. I love books. When I’m reading a good story, I find it hard to put down. There’s always a point in the last third of a book where the plot kicks into high gear and starts the downhill rush towards the denouement. I have to be careful about when I get to that point in a book because once I get there I absolutely have to finish it before I can do anything else.

Mass Effect 1 and 2 affect me the same way. I actually started the last mission in ME2 much too late at night and finally had to tear myself away around 2 am but before I actually finished the game. So all day the following day at work, I was counting the hours until I could get back on and finish.

I enjoyed Mass Effect 2 as much as I had hoped to and much more than I expected to. I blame my hesitance to start the game on my lowered expectations and on the crappy marketing leading up to release. All of the talk about a darker tone, and  the awful preview videos with Jack, had me concerned that they were taking Mass Effect more towards a Dragon Age style which I didn’t enjoy much.

Turns out my fears were totally baseless, I enjoyed all of the new characters, including Jack (which I was really surprised about). I was just as (or more actually) emotionally involved in the story. The Mass Effect games are part of a very small group of games (like KOTOR, oddly enough) where my emotional investment in the characters is just as deep as it is when I read a novel. I think it is a combination of “good enough” facial and body animation combined with excellent voice work, good writing, and just enough choice allowed in the dialogue trees. Having fully voiced dialogue for both my character and for non-player characters keeps the immersion level high. Limiting the character customization so that non-player reactions to my character’s appearance is appropriate (don’t refer to me as a boy if I look like I’m 60 years old). With immersion maintained at such a high and consistent level, it is much easier for me to develop a bond with my digital teammates.

So if you are into Science-Fiction, space opera, adventure stories, I highly recommend playing both Mass Effect games. You don’t have to play the first to enjoy the second, but it is a better experience having played both.

D, R, effing, M.

DR-effing-M. *sigh*

I am reminded of the following quote:

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. – Albert Einstein

Ubisoft has decided that they do not want to learn from the experiences of EA and 2K Games.

PC Gamer has an article about how Ubisoft is requiring an internet connection for Assassins Creed 2 for the PC. That’s not just for registering the game initially, or launching the game, but for the entire time the game is running. So your router goes down, or your 2 year old son unplugs your modem? You get kicked out of your game. When your connection comes back up you’re at the last checkpoint you reached. Hopefully there are a lot of checkpoints in the game.

There’s a follow up at PC Gamer where Ubisoft tries to address their concerns, but the only thing I got from it is that they don’t have a firm grasp on reality.

What it boils down to is that they are trying to combat piracy. They are trying to sell this system as a value add, by saying that you don’t have to have the disc to play, that you can install as many times as you want, and that your save games will be stored on a server. What they don’t seem to understand, though, is that when I buy a single player game, I don’t want to have to worry about launch day player floods of the authentication server. I understand, and expect, that as part of the MMO experience, but I don’t want that in my single player experience. Ubisoft doesn’t even believe that it is unhackable. So, once again, people of rip off the company will be able to play however they want and paying customers get to deal with the hassle.

Let me explain something to Ubisoft. I haven’t played Bioshock. I didn’t buy it for PC because of all of the problems 2k had with their server-based DRM scheme. There were plenty of other games for me to play at the time, so why purchase something that is going to cause me frustration. I also didn’t buy it for Xbox 360, since I didn’t want to encourage bad behavior. Not a big deal, right? That’s just one sale. Well not exactly. I’m not buying Bioshock 2 either. Not because of any DRM of 2k boycott, but because I never played the first one, and I feel I would be missing out on the full experience by not having played the first game.

This whole debacle is very timely. I didn’t play Assassin’s Creed 1 because of some of the reviews it got about repetitiveness, and I was deep into several other games at the time. Generally this means that the window of opportunity for me to get into a franchise is closed. Assassin’s Creed 2 has been getting such good reviews, though that I thought about picking up both games for my 360. I was actually in Best Buy this last weekend and had both games in my hand. I didn’t end of buying them, but only because I decided I should check with friends and see if I really needed to play the first game or I would be better off watching some Youtube cut-scenes. Boy am I glad I didn’t buy those games now. So Ubisoft has cost themselves two sales from me, and likely any additional sales on the franchise since I’ll be so far behind on the story.

As rants go, this one is pretty weak, but I’m not really pissed off so much as exasperated. You would think that gaming companies would look at case studies of what the music industry went through already, or at least what other gaming companies have already tried and failed at.

It reminds me of a corporate reorganization at a former job. We had a full IT department meeting, where the CIO outlined a reorganization we were going to do. Instead of grouping staff by technical skills (team of Java devs, team of Oracle admin, and so on) we were instead going to be grouped by business area/process. This meant that a team in charge of a specific business area would have one or more developers (of different skills sets like Java and Progress), a DBA, a tester, etc. The funny thing about the meeting was the CIO introduced the idea by saying it had been tried at other companies and never worked, but we were going to give it a shot anyway. I left wondering what the heck he was thinking.

So good luck to Ubisoft, trying to do nearly the same thing that EA, 2k, and others have already tried. I’m sure that you won’t have a multitude of issues every time a new game releases and thousands of players try to authenticate against your servers at the same time. I can’t imagine that you’ll have a horde of  angry customers calling support wanting to know why they can’t play their offline, single player game because your DRM servers are down for maintenance. I’m sure no one will mind in a couple of years when you decide to decommission the servers for old games, or really care if you decide to patch out the DRM at that time.

If you want to read some more about this, there’s some more good information and opinion over at both Rock, Paper, Shotgun! and Ars Technica.

Personally, I’m not committing myself to a boycott of the company or anything. I’m not going to start rage posting on forums or signing a petition. I’m just not going to buy the game and then move on with my life. I suppose I may be tempted at some point to buy an Ubisoft game despite the DRM, but right now I can’t think of a game that I’m looking forward to enough that I’d be willing to deal with that kind of DRM. Assassin’s Creed certainly isn’t interesting enough for me to bother. I have so many more convenient ways to spend my entertainment time.