The very first thing I noticed about Just Cause 2 is how weird it is to have a Square-Enix logo in front of it.  The second thing I noticed is that cutscenes are unskippable.  I wonder if these things are connected.

The demo is fun, but the default key mapping (and the inability to really customize your mouse) is kind of dumb.  Hopefully the final game will be patched a bit better.


Heavy Rain exists in kind of this weird, nebulous world where it’s neither a video game nor a movie.  It’s neither Dragon’s Lair nor Metal Gear Solid.  After sitting down with the game for an hour earlier this week, I don’t know where the story is going, I don’t particularly care, but I can recognize this: Heavy Rain is way ahead of its time.

Keep in mind, I am not 100% positive this is a good thing.

I think it would be a little hypocritical for me to dismiss Heavy Rain a non-game, an internet-made term used to describe casual titles that the speaker generally does not like.  This is partly because I hate the term, but mostly because I’m playing Miles Edgeworth.  The two games have more in common with each other than they would, say, a Gears of War or a Call of Duty.  They are games that put a focus on narrative first and wavering from that narrative, if possible, is discouraged and mostly white-washed over.

The difference is, I like Edgeworth and am not a fan of Heavy Rain.  There are reasons, mostly ones that come down to tone, but it’s really just personal preference.  However, saying that, I can admit that Heavy Rain is a game that is more likely along the path games will take in the near future.

Let’s pull another game in to this.

If you’ve never played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, it’s worth trying for ambition alone.  It can be argued up and down whether what the game part of it tries to accomplish succeeds, but the game attempts narratives in a way most modern games won’t.

Every so often in Silent Hill, you’ll find an item.  It could be a toy spaceship, a pearl necklace, maybe a menu.  These items have no effect on the main story, they don’t determine the ending you’ll get, they don’t have accompanying descriptions about who left them there.  You pick up one of these items, you manipulate it with the controller, you read inscriptions or whatever is on there yourself, and you’re done with it.

What’s incredible about this is how all of these things tell a story, but it’s entirely up to you to figure out.  A rattle in the snow makes no sense, but when you find footsteps leading from a cabin that has diapers and empty baby food canisters, you grasp a story about someone running out of food and venturing out, only to get lost.

Heavy Rain, Phoenix Wright, and Shattered Memories all have the same goal: to tell you a story and to entertain you with that story.  They all have their methods of interaction, too.  In Phoenix Wright, it’s about following the game’s logic to progress.  In Heavy Rain, the game tries get you involved with the action while still keeping it on the rails.  Your ability or inability to perform functions determines where the story goes.  In Silent Hill, the main story is fed to you, but the little stories are up to you as a player to extract.

These games are slowly etching out their own genre.  Whether you hate them or don’t feel they’re evolved enough yet, I think they’re going to end up being a big part of how developers design titles in the future, even subconciously.

If you liked previous Ace Attorney games, Edgeworth is good!

…that’s really all I have.

It’s a point and click, but not particularly involved in either.  It plays like the other games, but with an emphasis on investigating, while changing it up to be fun.  Cases are still beefy and interestingly written and the new characters are just as good as Phoenix’s troupe.

Here’s eight or so minutes near the beginning of the game.  It doesn’t show much, but with this kind of game, you really don’t want to see too much.

If you’ve never played the other games, this isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s no better or worse than starting with the first game.  For series veterans, here is your hit, crackheads.  Try not to twitch too much.

Did Bioshock need a sequel?

No, said the fans, who enjoyed Bioshock well enough.

No, said the critics, who thought it was self-contained.

Yes, said Take Two, because money is sexually arousing.

And that is why we’re here, at Bioshock 2, the Big Daddiest Bioshock of them all.  It’s not awful.  It might even be pretty good.  It’s competent, enjoyable at times, good graphics, they have the atmosphere of Bioshock nailed down and even improved the combat.

The problem, if this is a problem to you, is that it is literally Bioshock again.  Hell, within the first ten minutes, you go to a vending machine, pick up a plasmid, pass out, and get talked to by a Little Sister before she goes off with this game’s Big Family Member.  I wonder if this would all have more of an impact if it didn’t feel like you were retreading old ground, but how many people playing Bioshock 2 haven’t played the original?

The game has merit, though.  As evidenced by this video, probably the coolest part of the first hour, the game knows how to do atmosphere just as well as the original Bioshock team did.

The question is, why don’t they exercise this different and equally valid talent more?  Hopefully they will as the game continues.

Until then, Bioshock 2 feels like Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar – fine, probably pretty good if you really love the first one, but ultimately doesn’t have that same oomph of the original.

Mass Effect 2: Jack Off

February 1, 2010

Mass Effect 2 is a really good game I could probably nitpick to death.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws, it has a lot – a lot – but the whole is greater than the sum.

But it’s still a Bioware game, so it still has hilarious glitches.  Watch what happens in the very first fight I bring Jack in to ever.

Way to earn your place, dumbass!

It can only be one!

Wait, no.  That’s stupid.  What self-respecting publication would do that.

#1. Super Mario Galaxy

Perhaps you’re stunned in to silence by the incredible predictability of this choice.  Yeah, choosing a Mario game, particularly a well-liked one, as a #1 choice on any list isn’t very daring.

When I was a kid in 1996, I read a Next-Generation article that proudly claimed that Super Mario 64 was the best game ever made.  Their reasoning wasn’t that technology would never improve, or even that there wouldn’t be better Mario games, but gaming was never going to break ground in quite the same dramatic way.

It was not just about the way Mario 64 revolutionized 3D space in gaming, but the way it managed to do so while marrying it to tight adventure design.  The example given in the article was a random spot on a mountain with a monkey that had no real business being there.  Interacting with it caused it to steal your hat.  As you chase it down, trying to get it back, chances are you go over the edge of the platform and slide down, seeing the Pink Bomber happily dancing on a nearby ledge.  You may be hatless, but you’re no worse for wear, and have knowledge about where something is that you might otherwise not know.

I’m not going to argue Galaxy breaks the same ground as Mario 64, but it was aware of how to once again bring that back to good game design.  Super Mario Galaxy gets praised, perhaps too often, for doing interesting tricks with gravity, but that is not really the main focus of the game.  The gravity aids in level design, an underlying concept that forces you to except the rules of the world at a glance rather than constantly explain it to you.

I could go on and on about why I enjoyed Mario Galaxy more than any other game this generation, but people have seen it in numerous reviews and impressions.  The game constantly delights and surprises, which it does consistently.

It’s not the best game ever, it’s not the most revolutionary game ever, but I liked it better than any game released over the last ten years.  In our young industry, that’s saying a lot.

You know the drill by now.  Ten games I enjoyed this decade, previous posts below, etc.  Let’s go!

#3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

I wanted to stay consistent and not list this whole series so, while I think the third Phoenix Wright game, Trials & Tribulations, is actually a better game, the first one remains the game I actually enjoyed the most.  Maybe because it was my first exposure to the series or perhaps something intangible, but it definitely deserved a high place on my list.

There’s a line between people who like the series and dislike it – as much of a fan as I am, I can’t comfortably refer to these camps as those who get it and those who don’t, as either way is just as viable and logical.  What makes this series tricky to like is how much you have to overlook to enjoy the mechanics.

The games are very bad at being actual games.  There’s no option for figuring things out your own way, no progress investigating unless you click on spots in the order the game has defined, nothing that would scream to you that you must play the title.  But I recommend it to people like I would recommend a book I enjoy.

It’s in that weird sense that Phoenix Wright succeeds at marrying mediums where other games fail.  The industry is chasing Hollywood and Michael Bay, while Phoenix Wright chases the narratives set out by books.  While big-budget games have the goal of letting you play the movie, still ultimately wrapping you in a scripted experience.  Phoenix Wright lets you play a story, giving you just enough interaction to feel like you’re part of the story without changing it.

#2. Team Fortress 2

It’s kind of hard to spend some several hundred hours on a game and not place it high on my list.  When actually working it out, I decided “high” should be “really fucking high”.

Team Fortress 2, to someone who never really plays online games, is a culmination of what I thought games would be as a kid.  Well, it’s not VR and I can’t physically touch things in the game, but it’s close enough.  When I played Chip & Dale on the NES, slowly making progress with my brother, or my friends, I loved the idea of cooperating for a larger goal.

Through the murder, immolation, bombings, and inevitable arrows through the head, the game is basically team-based objectives that must be achieved.  Every time a strategy comes together and a nigh-invincible enemy sentry goes under and your team rushes to victory, it’s a feeling that most scripted single-player games can’t match.  Team Fortress 2 is freeform artistry at its best and that level of enjoyment is what less talented developers can never achieve.