Swing and a miss. Again.

Finally got to dive into the MLB 2K7 demo. I wouldn’t call myself a baseball fan, but as a gamer, I wanted to see how this game played after checking out some of the brilliant early footage that even showed wind blowing against the players’ uniforms. Spring training has started after all (and the game came out this week), so I felt a slight pinch of baseball fever when my download was finished.

That fever evaporated when I realized how badly I stunk at this game. You can pick from the Mets or the Cards (and the World Series champs, St. Louis, seem WILDLY underrated) and even get advanced scouting reports on opposing players to help out your pitcher. I ended up getting the workups on Delgado, Wright and Beltran — after all, I saw those guys the most on SportsCenter.

I got a fleet of tutorial text when I was both batting and pitching. Defensive shifts, pitch targeting, intentional walks, payoff pitches — I got it all. I’ve known mostly the MVP Baseball style of pitching and have only dabbled in the MLB style, which requires you to hold down the button, release it at the right time, and then press it again for accuracy. You use a sniper scope-like reticle that expands and contracts as your timing guide. It took some getting used to, and I paid for my knowledge by serving up gifts over the middle to most of the Mets order.

What really boggled me was batting. MLB uses the “swing stick,” which means instead of simply hitting the button at the right time (which you can still do), you can use the right thumbstick to control practically every facet of your swing. It’s the ultimate test of timing — you have to take your step, swing direction, and follow through into account. For a simple contact swing, you pull back on the stick (the step) and release it at the right time. For power, you pull back and push forward. For stuff like pulling and hitting to the opposite field, the game has you do Street Fighter-esque circle motions — so “hadouken” could mean a base hit.

I’m gonna hit the demo once more, visit with 2K to talk about the game, and then it’s time for something completely different — Bullet Witch for the 360. If it comes down to playing more baseball or shooting demons/casting spells with a smoldering, gun wielding sorceress, I’m picking the magic. Of course, if the game stinks, I’ll just play Crackdown or Rainbow Six.

Keeping an eye out for God of War 2 … oh yeah, and other demos :)

gowtwo.jpg

pega03.jpg

The demo that’s been etched into my psyche was the one for God Of War 2. No, that’s not on Marketplace — as a Sony product, I had to get the good ‘ol fashioned demo disc for the PS2. Unlike the GoW 1 demo disc, which cheesed out right before you fought the Hydra, this demo is ALL about the boss battle against the Colossus.

You essentially fight the Colossus in stages, where each time Kratos does the giant some damage, courtesy of his signature button-timed sequences. The Colossus attempts to pimp-slap Kratos all over the place, like any massive living statue would try to do to a fallen god. You’ll find some moments where you have to avoid getting crushed and stomped (repeated button pressing sequences save you). The demo also reintroduces you to the simple (some would say too simple) fighting system, which felt as button-mashy as the last game. No matter … I’m still going to get it. You really can’t go wrong with Greek mythology in my mind, and this game is loaded with it — Atlas (see above), Pegasus, Icarus, the Colossus — it’s like “Clash of the Titans” for gamers — but no Harry Hamlin. If you want to see some more game footage, roll back a few entries to see the Colossus battle. Just epic stuff … and it’s on the PS2.

Which brings me to another not-so-random thought: What is Kratos doing on the PS2? I know there’s a real answer out there somewhere (development was already too far ahead, Sony didn’t want to send a “PS2 is dead” message, whatever) but with all the early talk I heard about Kratos being the iconic face of the Sony gaming brand, it almost seems criminal that their signature character wouldn’t be asked to help sell their next-gen console.

I’ve harped on this before, but I still can’t shake it — Kratos seems like a victim of bad timing. We didn’t see him until late in the PS2′s life cycle, and now we’re going to have to wait a while before we see him on a next-gen console (though Heavenly Sword has a chance to make people forget about Kratos for month or two). It just seems like he was never asked to carry the load, and I really think he had the potential to do so. Now, with practically every bit of Sony news being negative (and Sony-bashing a bonafide trend), the next God of War game — or ANY original Sony IP for that matter — better move mountains. It’s almost sad, poring over the demo — you see what Sony still has in the tank as far as gaming is concerned. It’s a shame it’s being bogged down by so much negativity.

On a sunnier note, one of my favorite things about Xbox Live Marketplace is how it entices you to check in practically every week, because there always seems to be new stuff out. This week, everybody jumping on the GRAW 2 and MLB 2K7 demo. I’m downloading the MLB 2K7 demo now, and I’m going to have to re-download GRAW 2. It kept jamming up on me (getting frozen screenshots instead of fluid movement).

What little I did play reminded me of why I like Rainbow Six — the cover system. I had no idea what to do without it. In my very brief stints on multiplayer, I had a really hard time figuring out who my opponents were — there were at least TWO instances where I started at someone for about 10 seconds before I launched a grenade at them. One of the players on the mic said it best: “This could become camper heaven.”

I also forgot how wickedly complicated the GRAW world is — automated drones to scout soldiers out (though not much use in smaller matches), about 1,000 different functions for the controller. Granted, everything feels a little more natural the more you play, but there are still going to be times where I get killed trying to figure out my weapon functions. Ugh.

Tomorrow, I’m visiting with 2K to get a closer look at MLB, so I’ll be back with some words on that. I figure I should get some demo time in, so I don’t completely noob out. I miss football.

A first crack at ‘Crackdown’

I dreamed about jumping over rooftops last night. When a game makes you dream about it, it’s got to be doing something right.

After pouring a little more than a day into ‘Crackdown’, I still don’t want pull myself away from it. I’m not talking about an addiction — I’m not like I’m going to start twitching in a corner because I’m not playing it. The bottom line, at least for me, is that it’s fun. Pure, mindless, goofy fun. It’s the equivalent of picking up a really cool toy and playing with it for hours.

“Crackdown” is growing on me. When I first played the demo, I immediately thought it felt like “Just Cause,” but with a more diverse range of minority groups. I was still the superhero-caliber protagonist, capable of crushing small armies of enemies by myself. The basic goal of the game? Make everyone dead. The end.

Then I started to upgrade my crimefighter. In the demo, upgrading was accelerated, so I saw muscles grow before my eyes when I worked on my strength. I witnessed some pretty amazing explosions the more I worked on my explosives abilities. I even watched my car pimp itself out when I was juiced on driving ability (I mean, you’ll see your police car turn into the cel-shaded equivalent of the Batmobile. Never gets old.) The demo was also timed, so you had to rush through everything or play it several times to examine different elements.

With the finished product, I actually found the experience a lot more fulfilling with the “normal” pacing of the upgrade system. Sure, you still have no idea what the name or backstory of your character is, but that didn’t stop me (or other people) from hunting for agility orbs for hours. The game almost forces you to take ownership of your agent and practically cultivate him … sort of like a plant. A really violent plant. With grenades and rockets.

However, the real fun is found in co-op play. I managed to play with a couple of people on my Live buddy list, and I can honestly say it’s the most fun I’ve had in years. It’s not the emotional, competitive grind that Gears or Rainbow Six multiplayer can be. Playing “Crackdown” essentially feels like goofing off, the next-gen equivalent of playing paper football with your cubicle mate. If you don’t want to take down gangs, you can orb hunt together or just generally play with the city around you. The game is so free-form that with a little creativity, you can even put together some odd games of your own — especially when your abilities are jacked up.

For instance, this morning, me and a buddy (lets call him Bloodshot) were driving around Pacific City, trying to find our way to a particular part of town. We were going the wrong way. Bloodshot spotted a freeway overpass (or bridge, whatever it is), which was the right way to go. Instead of backing up and driving all the way around to the overpass, I got out of the car. Bloodshot stayed inside. Then I picked up the car over my head — I was going to toss him onto the freeway above. The first time, I screwed up and ended up just chucking the car (and Bloodshot) 30 yards in front of me. The car landed right side up, and Bloodshot simply drove the wreck into a better position. Then I picked the car up again, timed it right, and voila … we’re on the overpass. I just used my super jumping ability to hop onto the bridge.

You might ask, “Why didn’t you just jump onto the bridge and take a car instead of playing ‘toss the vehicle’”? Well, what fun would that have been? Plus, we kind of liked the car.

It’s that kind of spontaneous nonsense that could make a game like Crackdown worth purchasing. I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at some of the wondrous (and sometimes stupid) things your superagent can do. You’ll also find some of the most satisfying explosions on a console, and it’s still fun to hurtle through the air across a city skyline.

That doesn’t mean the game is without flaws. It’s got plenty, which I’ll get into later. Could all this fun run out in hour 10 or 12? Maybe. But I’m having a lot of fun waiting to be bored.

Big week

I’m still in the middle of transcribing the interview from seeing “Guitar Hero II.” It’ll show up later here as an earlier entry. It’s going to be a good/busy week. I just finished up with “Ghost Rider” (not as bad as you might want to think), and I’ve got “Crackdown” and “NBA Street Homecourt” to peel into. Oddly enough, I think I’m looming forward to “Street” more, simply because I think “Crackdown” is a little overdiscussed, and I’m readly for something other than a simulation for my hoops fix after All-Star weekend.

I really didn’t want to like Ghost Rider … but I ended up having some fun with it after all. It reeks of unoriginality, but at least the games it rips off are pretty good: “God of War,” “Devil May Cry” and “Onimusha.” I will say this, though — before anyone else jumps on the “God of War” bandwagon to bash the game, it should be noted that for all of GoW’s accolades and props, innovation wasn’t one of them. Just putting it out there. If anything, Ghost Rider is making me look forward even more to GoW 2. I hear the demo’s out, but the litany of trailers and what I saw at E3 are more than enough. I’m probably going to go through the first one just to prepare.

Shredding away

I need to admit something. I stink at “Guitar Hero.” Oh, I can hit 98 to 100 percent of the notes of songs on Easy level, but anything beyond that and I run the risk of losing my hands. Should that stop me from being able to check out “Guitar Hero II” on the 360? I think not.

This week I headed to Los Angeles to meet with Bryan Lam, senior PR specialist of RedOctane. Before we actually got to playing GH, I managed to chuck some questions at him. Some of them were my own, others were from faithful AGI listener UkuleleSHIMA, such a fan of the series that he has his very own customized guitar controller. Freak.

So, here’s the Q and A. Keep in mind that Lam is eating while answering … I edited out the chewing sounds for better reading:

Q: What’s with the new controller? Other than the “X” connection, why was this particular design chosen? Are there any mechanical improvement that might give the Xplorer version a different feel than the ones for the PS2?

A: It’s based on another classic Gibson shape that most people know about. We’ve worked with Gibson for a while now — both Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II had the Gibson SB mini-guitar. If you take a look at the strum bar and the whammie bar (on the Xplorer), they’re more reinforced. The feedback we heard was that when you strum so hard or rock out with the whammie bar, it gets a little loose, so we wanted to make it a little sturdier. But in real life, every guitar is different as well.

Q: The fret buttons are square on the Xplorer, as opposed to the rounded ones on the PS2. Was that just a cosmetic change, or was that also more of a feedback-and-feel thing as well?

A: It’s a little bit of both. The neck of the guitar is a little skinnier as well from the SG, but that’s just because that the type of guitar it is. We just made the changes to adapt to the guitar.

Q: There’s some speculation about the “mystery port” at the bottom …

A: I’ll solve that for you right now. If you wanted to order Burger King while playing online, you can do that now … No, but seriously it’s still being confirmed (as to what the port actually does). It’s like a bellybutton … it’s there, but you don’t know what it’s for. Right now, we have a lot of ideas as to what we want to do with it.

Continue reading

Slam! Duh-duh-duh. Duh-duh-duh.

wallacelg.jpg

I got a chance to mess around with the “NBA Street Homecourt” demo over the weekend. I put ‘Melo, A.I. and Marcus Camby against Rasheed, Rip and Chauncey Billups. I had some fun with it, mostly because the “Street” series is the polar opposite of the traditional hoops game. It’s the anti-simulator — just crazy buckets back and forth, a lot like “NBA Jam,” but without the ear-bleeding noise of the announcer that went “whoooooa … BOOM SHAKA-LAKA” when you vaulted 50 feet in the air for a dunk.

Of course, the game looks pretty solid visually, which is important since the focus is on real-life playgrounds. When one of the players reaches and hits a “gamebreaker,” their home court flashes on the screen. Like the other Street games, a lot of the gameplay focuses on flashy moves designed to make the guy guarding you look silly. You bounce the ball between someone’s legs, bounce it off their head, cross them over so they fall down, all that good stuff. The dunks, of course, are nuttier than ever — I ended a lot of games by slamming it once, catching it with my feet, tossing it up into the air, FLIPPING, then catching it and dunking it again. That counts as two.

One think I’ll never understand is why you’re allowed to goal-tend, smacking the ball away when the ball is WELL on its way down. Cheap as hell. I also didn’t like ‘Sheed practically punching my players out of the way just to get the ball — I know it’s streetball and there are no fouls, but when was the haymaker a sanctioned defensive technique? You don’t see the And1 guys or the dudes at Rucker Park whipping out the bicycle kick to D up the point guard, do you? In the end, I guess I can deal with that … but the goal-tending madness is complete crap. What’s the point in taking a jumpshot when some jackass can swat it away right as it reaches the hoop?