‘God Of War II’ video

This has been making the rounds on all the gaming sites. It’s a nice reminder as to why one should not retire the PS2 just yet. Kratos is still a major force to be reckoned with. Enjoy the video.

‘Rogue Galaxy’ impressions

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I normally steer clear of RPGs, since it’s pretty hard to get a good wholesome take on games that promise about 70-100 hours of gameplay. But I heard very good things about ‘Rogue Galaxy,’ and I was in the mood for a little storytelling (you can only fight terrorists for so long), so I fired up the PS2 and have been messing with it since.

Let me get this out of the way: It’s not FFXII. When I have the time to delve more into it, I can expound or discuss why XII could be the best pure RPG out now, “Oblivion” included.

But what I’m going to point out in my review is that RG could be the perfect introduction to the world of Japanese RPG storytelling. As veteran gamers, we have a way of becoming so jaded that we immediately cast verbal stones at things in games that are familiar. You’ve seen the characters in RG before: the unlikely boy hero, the perky, cute girl with big eyes and fighting ability, and even the grizzled “badass” character that help balance out the vanilla nature of the main character. While recycling familiar character molds is nothing to be cheered, it’s no reason to discard what the rest of the games bring. Because honestly, you could look at MOST game characters and see what inspired them, or why they’re so popular. Honestly, how many anti-heroes do we have?

RG is fun to play. That’s what it comes down to. It doesn’t blow away my gaming perceptions or pull emotions out of my soul (though there’s still time) but I’m legitimately entertained by it. The cel shading works for it, I dig the battle system, like the chances to make my own stuff — there’s really nothing WRONG with it. Like “Kingdom Hearts,” this is going to be one of those titles that I’ll pick away at when the mood suits me. Don’t sleep on it because you may have seen it before. RPGs (at least the good ones) are getting scarce.

Down with ‘Crackdown’?

After a few hours of downloading, I finally got to sink my teeth into the massive demo for “Crackdown,” the next big release for the Xbox 360. And I … I don’t know.

If you’re unfamiliar with this game’s story, it’s essentially about blasting the crap out of thugs using genetically enhanced supercops. There’s no centralized “franchise” character you use — instead, you get to pick from a stable of superagents with varying ethnicities. It’s a rainbow coalition of violent crimefighting.

I was intrigued by the game’s cel-shaded, cartoony visage. At the very least, it looks different than the games it’s going to be compared to, GTA and Saints Row. However, it’s not like cel shading is new — you’ve got “Okami,” “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “XIII,” “Viewtiful Joe”– so let’s not pretend that “Crackdown” is offering us anything revolutionary.

Also interesting was the concept that your character “beefs up” as you wreak havoc in the city. You’ll see your agent evolve from a slender, athletic rookie to a yoked-up, hulking beast. The same even goes for your cars — they pimp themselves out the more damage you do. Since your agent is genetically enhanced, he can do stuff like pick up cars and toss them, or jump extremely high — kind of like the Incredible Hulk. With an assault rifle. And grenades.

I spent a few hours tearing through squads of gang bangers, essentially feeling like Rambo — you know, one man killing 50 with a machine gun. It got a old after a while, even with the ability to chuck cars and even corpses at the enemy. It’s an open-world title, so I was hoping for some kind of “waypoint” system for the maps, much like Saint’s Row. Didn’t happen … I had to settle for the traditional “drive toward the dot and guess” method.

If there’s one thing the game knows how to do, it’s explosions. It’s satisfying to see one of your grenade blasts launch a car (and the fools surrounding it) 70 feet into the air. It’s not quite the Gears chainsaw, but it’s a hell of a sight nonetheless.

However, I found myself getting bored very quickly. I spent the next few hours finding little things that annoyed me: goofy camera, relatively brainlocked enemies, and not being able to enter buildings. Apparently, Mr. Superagent has to jump and climb into everything instead of opening the door, which results in you running around to find the right ledges and stuff to jump on. That’s irritating.

I also can’t help but think the game may have touched on a bit of unintentional humor … the voice that informs you of your progress conjures up images of a propaganda poster with a drawing of a smiling, stone-jawed militiaman giving you a big thumbs-up. What if “Crackdown” ended up being a parody of other open-world games, much like “God Hand” poked fun at fighting games? That wouild be some next-level thinking, and personally, ensure the game a place in my library.

I’m not sure I was feeling the whole “respawn in a different spot after you die” mechanic in the demo. It makes the game feel like a single-player deathmatch, where all you have to do is kill everything on the screen. There’s no fear of death … and if there’s no fear of death, what’s my motivation to play the game the right way?

So many questions … all in all, I want to see more of the game. I’m certainly not going to condemn it, but I’m also thinking that access to the “Halo 3″ multiplayer beta is going to end up being a big help after all.

I’m taking a break from the demo and firing up the PS2 to try out “Rogue Galaxy,” an RPG that was released first in Japan, then remixed and retooled for the Western gamers. The Japanese gamers who have the original need not fear … the verson we got is going to be re-released as a “director’s cut.”

And in case you’re wondering … yes, there’s cel-shading in that one too.

Football and anti-terrorism

Those were the two dominating forces in my weekend. After a truly strange AGI, I got the urge to play through “Splinter Cell: Double Agent” and watch both of the NFC and AFC championship games. I sacrificed most of the Saints-Bears game for Sam’s mission in Kinshasa, and a small chunk of Colts-Pats was evaporated by my final jaunt through the JBA. Got to see the comeback — oddly enough, I wasn’t inspired to play Madden.

I’ve got some catching up to do before “Crackdown” drops in a few weeks. I got my link to try out “Sam and Max” on GameTap, and I still need to play the “Battlestations: Midway” demo. People either love it or hate it — no real middle ground. That comes out the 30th.

Oh, and then there’s the “Crackdown” demo, so I’ll be jumping on building and tossing cars hopefully sometime this week. The demo comes out tomorrow. I’ve been feeling a somewhat lukewarm vibe for “Crackdown,” but I think it offers a nice change-up from all the Gears and R6 action I’ve been locked in for ages. Plus, being able to wreak supernatural damage on gang bangers is an opportunity I really want to take.

The review for “Phoenix Wright: Justice for All” should be in the paper(s) Thursday. I hope everyone had a good weekend.

Oh look … even MORE ‘Oblivion’

Bethesda today announced “Shivering Isles,” the official expansion for “Oblivion” for the PC and 360. It almost seems merciless, considering that “Oblivion” sans expansion is still worth about a gazillion hours of role-playing debauchery. I’m not joking — this game has probably ended a few relationships.

Anyway, “Shivering Isles” puts you in the turf of the Prince of Madness, Sheogorath, who wants you to be his champion and defend his realm.

The concept of madness is the theme for this expansion, but one of the more intriguing gameply features is having new armor and weapons forged for you by craftsmen. Have fun — the expansion is slated for a spring release.

Farewell, ‘Lost Planet’

Well, after a little more than 10 hours, I’m done with the “Lost Planet” single player campaign. Can’t really say it was worth some of the pain if put me though. After the insanely cheap walking tank boss, it’s like the game decides you are worthy and rewards you by making the rest of the experience easy. I ended up peeling through the remaining handful of boss battles on no more than three tries, counting the final one. Though I will say this … the final confrontation has it’s cool moments, as most Capcom end battles do. The ending is, in a word, meh.

Overall, I’d say the game is a rent, not a buy. I had fun, but there were also times I threw up my hands and said “(Bleep) this game!” I’d play multiplayer, but I don’t like the game enough on a personal level to make the investment — especially since I’ve got Gears and Rainbow.

Now it’s onto “Phoenix Wright: Justice For All,” which wiped out three hours at the car dealership. It’s that engrossing. I’ll talk about it on AGI and it’ll be one of next week’s reviews in what’s been a lukewarm gaming month.

Objection! Again!

DS owners will be glad to know that “Phoenix Wright: Justice for All” shipped today. If you’re a gamer who also happens to like “Law & Order”, I implore you to try out the first one. There’s a chance I might end up liking this more than “Lost Planet.” I’m not kidding. Some of the new features involve an actual life meter for Phoenix, as well as a “psyche-lock” feature that help you tear through a suspect’s web of lies.

When someone asks if you’re a god, you say, “YES!”

There’s some footage bouncing around about a Euro developer called ZootFly and a game they are working on … Ghostbusters. The REAL Ghostbusters. As in “Back off man, I’m a scientist.”

The random thoughts and possibilities are bubbling over:

1) They could get the original actors to do voicework.
2) The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man — he needs to be there.
3) I wonder how they would handle the “ghost trap” mechanic.
4) A Ghostbusters verson of the roadie run. Make it happen.
5) Open world? Vehicular combat?
6) What happens if you cross the streams in co-op? (you can’t have Ghostbusters without co-op.)

There were some questions about whether or not this game is real, and an IGN article basically tells us that yes, it IS real … but it’s on hold over the standard licensing issues.

All I know is … I need this game to be made. Enjoy the footage.

One-on-one with Fatal1ty at CES

Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel is known by a lot of people as the closest thing professional gaming has to a Michael Jordan. He’s won a ton of tournaments and made a lot of bread in the past few years. Now he’s got his own line of gaming products, and at the beginning of this week, announced his partnership with DirecTV and Fox Family to serve as the host/commentator for DirecTV’s Championship Gaming Series.

The series is slated to start internationally broadcasting to about 100 million homes this spring. It’s going to feature gaming teams from North America, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Australia. The prize is $1 million.

I managed to catch up to Fatal1ty at CES today for a few minutes. After the jump is our conversation. My questions are in bold. Read and enjoy if you like.

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The night before CES

Right now, I’m sitting in the office of a giant house in Las Vegas … there are more than a handful of bedrooms (each with cable), a guest house, a big pool, marble floors and large white support columns … the kind of columns that need some stone goddesses around them to complete the effect. If I lived here, I’d be thinking of a spot for a “The World Is Mine” statue.

Thanks to a family friend (who bought this house from a family of cardiologists) this will be my mini-base of operations during my three days of poking around the Consumer Electronics Show, which is essentially the largest tech show in the world.

CES has a way of making you feel out of your element, no matter how much of a techie or gamer you are (and, by the way, “techie” does NOT always equal “gamer” and vice versa). There are literally so many fields — mobile tech, home theater, automobiles, audio, personal tech, content sharing, etc. — that it is virtually impossible to leave here and claim you saw everything. It can’t be done.

I’ll be posting here when I’m not doing stuff for the paper. Paper-wise, I’ll be looking at three things: mobile tech/content, car tech and home entertainment. On this blog, you’ll see (in theory) little nuggets of info and anything else that might not fit in print. Wish me luck.