Tagged: Shawn10

Now Playing: The Ultimate Alphabet (iOS)

Just take this all in for a minute

Unaffectionately coined as Find the Shit games by Katy, you could immediately write off The Ultimate Alphabet as another of those photo hunt/hidden object games that are increasingly popular these days, but you’d be missing out. Sort of an intelligent photo hunt in reverse, The Ultimate Alphabet presents you with an image of hundreds of things that all begin with the same letter and lets you tell it what you see. And though it may seem like a perfect educational game for little learners, The Ultimate Alphabet is definitely an app for adults. The clues are horrendously cryptic, many of the words are esoteric or simply extinct and some of the imagery is borderline erotic or at least potentially disturbing to younger viewers.

The Ultimate Alphabet by Toytek is a collaboration with Mike Wilks, the Englishman who first created the illustrated book of the same name in 1986. For those who missed it 24 years ago (myself included), it was a coffee table fad that was later followed by books like Where’s Waldo? and The Magic Eye. What the app may lack in oversized, hardback appeal, it more than makes up for in simple interactivity and general gaminess while retaining the same smirk-inducing satisfaction of the original format. (more…)

Done Playing: Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360)

I’m not a huge cowboy fan but I appreciate the change of pace from the typical bro-love of space marines and Earth toned fantasy characters every now and again. Red Dead Revolver came along at just the right boiling point in 2004 and although there have been plenty of titles to marry a controller with the Wild West, none have ever done it as well as Red Dead Redemption.

Set at a boiling point of its own, John Marston heads back West at the behest of an expanding government agency that’s blackmailed him into a corner. A former bandit on the path of redemption (cue title card) he enters the fictional world of New Austin just as modern civilization catches up. Horse paths are well worn, wagons and wannabe gunslingers race back and forth while townsfolk talk of new technology and the Capital’s looming shadow. I expected to be all alone out in in the wild and seeing a lot of similar sun-baked terrain but given the setting and the talent of the environment artists there’s only a lull in the scenery when it’s well planned.

read this whole thing I wrote or just watch the beauty unfold above

The atmosphere is what continually impressed. The rippling heat, the stark shadows cast over the terrain at noontime and the glowing blue-white hue of a full moon night. But the storms! Oh, how amazing storms are in this game! It’s the kind of powerful display I wish every storm could be like in real life. Flashes light up the sky and the individual raindrops falling in front of you while the peeling thunder always sounds imposing; so much so that it sometimes spooks your horse. Little details like the shimmery puddles that last through the day or the extra-bright sunshine following a storm really show an attention to detail and mood that very few games can match.

The wildlife is another highlight that keeps the vast barren spaces alive and imposing. Dozens of creatures roam the world, some only at certain times of day, and many of them easily provoked and more powerful than you might expect. The press materials promised a realistic food chain but I never saw much animal-on-animal action. Rather, it was a random hunter whose approaching gunfire almost always had my pistol at the ready. I could go on for days about this amazing, unpredictable and gorgeous world but I’ll suffice to say that it’s the one thing that pulls this game above the ‘Grand Theft Horse’ expectations and makes it truly special.

That’s not to say the gameplay or story are a disappointment. Without all the terrible, modern pop culture to cull from, Redemption’s story is pretty basic and, given the setting, even the most despicable actions are easily justified. Many of the missions involve random strangers you’ll meet and some unfold over the course of the game without a single bullet being fired, others are wrapped up after hunting down specific plantlife or animals. ‘Random acts of Honor’ pop up regularly as you explore the world and let you decide how to deal with fleeing convicts, stagecoach hijackers, kidnappers, and assorted ruffians. For as forward-thinking as all that stuff is you’ll still be gunning your way through a large chunk of the Wild West’s population. The writing does a good job of explaining John’s motivations no matter how many times you hear it repeated but in the end the story stuff feels too much like Grand Theft Auto.

That would’ve been a selling point in 2002 but here it was almost the last thing I wanted to do. It starts out strong with story missions that see you wrangling wild horses and herding cattle but soon enough it falls back on cover-based, slow-mo enhanced gunfights against armies on obvious setpieces. Rockstar has definitely pushed way out ahead of GTA4 but this isn’t quite the new standard in open world gaming. Maybe that’s why there’s so much ambient, ancillary stuff to do. I’ve already put in over 80 hours and I’d guess less than 1/4 of that was spent on the story, even less in Multiplayer. So come for the experience of an honest-to-god Wild West wonderland and stick around for the quality storytelling. Just be sure to wander well away from the familiar mission structure as often as you can.

UPDATED: Now Co-Playing: Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360)

After our first night of playing together I wasn’t sure how I felt about the full game. The demo really surprised me with those pre-chievements and a focus on Getting Stuff Done in the brief 30-minute time period. Playing the full game we found ourselves sticking to the same area as the demo, like lab rats that run the same course even when the maze changes. The endless pursuit of Orbs, though, finally drew us out of our shell and into Pacific City’s new (but still old) cityscape. We put in some good work taking over the rebel group, Cell, and their numerous strongholds and lighting Absorption Units to thwart the mutant freaks. Light up three (or more) Units and you can then journey underground, where most of the game’s new areas are, in order to defend a light bomb until it activates. It winds up being pretty random and sloppy — dashing all over to punch, shoot, and explode specific freaks — but it is a new mechanic, at least for Crackdown. I think inFAMOUS did something similar but I didn’t play much of that.

It wasn’t until this morning when I was at work that I realized just how much fun I’m having playing with Katy; all I could think about was playing more Crackdown 2. Making progress, hunting for Orbs and the general tomfoolery of crossing paths with Katy as we explode things is just dumb fun and the kind that I haven’t had so effortlessly since the original. How much longer all this proves to be entertaining remains to be seen but for now it’s a blast!

PREVIOUSLY: Seeing how Katy and I are planning to play as much of this one co-op as possible (yes, we own two copies and two Xboxes) I thought I’d try to live up to the ‘Now Playing’ idea and keep up with our adventures as often as possible. Already there’s been a few surprises and I just now got to the title screen.

For starters, all new copies of the game come with a Marketplace code for a free Agency Helicopter toy for your Xbox Live Avatar (see!). There was a 0-Day Title Update that patched god-knows-what and as soon as I got to the main menu I was hit with some BA~GOINKs! Thanks to the demo’s pre-chievements we’re both 100 Points richer right out of the box which also unlocked an Avatar Award in the form of an exclusive Orb T-shirt. This game just keeps giving! I’m going in now to see what’s new in Pacific City until Katy gets home and we team up for the first time.

Achieving: A Lot with Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption may prove to be a landmark title in Achievement design when we look back on this crazy social scoring meme in ten years. Perfectly metered story Achievements unlock as you progress but the ancillary stuff — the X number of kills with a weapon, the well played hand of Poker, the horse breaking — are all things you could easily unlock by just playing around. Then there are the classic Wild West moments to be recreated (tying a woman to the train tracks), endurance challenges like clearing out all gang hideouts in one 24-hour day, and cheeky pop culuture references like ‘Bearly Legal’ and ‘Heading South on a White Bronco’. Those are all specific things to accomplish but with a little focus they’re not overly frustrating or even terribly challenging. But, of course, there are the really tough multiplayer Achievements which I’m mostly incapable of , or too antisocial, to ever get.

One of my proudest moments is what’s pictured above. Rockstar’s Social Club is a whole other realm of meta-gaming layered on top of Achievements and PlayStation 3 Trophies. Connect your account there with your Xbox Live or PSN credentials and it pulls in an incredible amount of data about how you play. Those numbers filter into the page you see here that visually tracks your progress towards 100%-ing the game. It also offers tips and helps keep your head in the game even when you’re just sitting at your computer. The 100% ‘Redeemed’ Achievement was almost simply a matter of playing the game for me making the following accomplishments a little more rewarding:

Most Wanted: Become a Public Enemy for 10 minutes and escape alive in a Public Free Roam Game

I’ve never sought out a Public Enemy in a Free Roam game myself but it seems like the longer you’re the most wanted the more Experience your hide is worth. At least, that’s how it felt as I’d hole up in a good camping spot to abuse the A.I. cops for 9 minutes only to have a real person come gun me down in the 10th. After two days of serious effort (the whole process took me about 35 minutes each time) I finally managed to outlast other players and the cops to get this sweet 10 points.

Unnatural Selection: Kill one of every animal species in the game in any game mode.

Killing and skinning animals was a surprising experience for me. I wasn’t appalled by the act but it definitely gave me pause every time it happened. Then I got desensitized and the elongated skinning animations were more offensive than the gore. I waited as long as possible to go on an animal killing spree, hoping no one would spot me knifing a pig or sniping a cow from the outskirts of town. Turns out, the Achievement is for wild animals so I apologize to the domestic dogs, chickens and cattle I pointlessly slaughtered. I feel somewhat proud, then, that the last animal I needed for the unlock was a wild horse. Of all the stray bullets I sent fly throughout the game not a single one (or any of my deliberate shots for that matter) ever hit a wild stallion… until it was at the top of my hit list.

Hit the Trail: Get from Blackwater to Escalera before sundown in a public Free Roam session.

This one isn’t terribly hard, you basically ride from one distant point on the map to another, but waiting around for sunrise to set out on this particular session proved hair-raising. Just as the day broke on the town of Blackwater another online player decided to make it his mission to gun me down repeatedly. He set me back by several minutes but eventually I respawned far enough away that I could call on my horse and tear off out of town. I don’t know if he was set on following me but his dot on the map kept pace for a while, making my hands shake as I managed my horse’s stamina. As I rode across the border into Mexico he disappeared but then he began fast traveling to destinations ahead of me. At one point he was almost back on me but I was speeding by on a trail while he plodded through the brush. Finally I coasted into Escalera with loads of time before sundown, feeling more accomplished than I rightly should have thanks to my improptu pursuer. *BA~GOINK* Another nerve-wracking 10 points… and then he caught up and gunned me down again.

Probably Done Playing: Patchwork Heroes (PSP)

What I was hoping to get from Patchwork Heroes was essentially Qix with some clever artwork and asymmetrically shaped stages. Clamoring around massive airships, hacking away little chunks that the game calculated in size and percentage with colorful skyscapes flying by is about all I needed. Repeat a dozen times or more and that would’ve justified the $10 price tag for me. And everything was going great until about Stage 3. There’s a bunch of funny self-aware conversation and oddball antics going on in the brief intermissions and I love the vibrant patchworked art style but once the game started layering on new mechanics my interest fell apart quicker than a swiss cheesed airship.

The biggest problem I have with Patchwork Heroes is the timer. Unlike Qix, which may have docked you some points for taking a while to finish a stage, Patchwork Heroes gives you a maximum of maybe three minutes to get the job done. And you’re not just hacking apart the airships as you get past the first few missions, you’re also rescuing prisoners from barred windows or cutting around certain areas or objects. An increasing array of enemies and obstacles block your path and you’re also encouraged to finish with time to spare, without losing any of cutting crew (read: lives), and all prisoners rescued.

It’s another game brought to you by the PlayStation C.A.M.P. initiative that disappointed me with Trash Panic and Patchwork Heroes suffers the same fate in my book. With the painfully short timer always ticking away and so many goals to complete it becomes clear that this isn’t a game of exploration and haphazard fun but a game you’re meant to restart over and over until you discover the magical roadmap to success.

Cut from here to here, rescue this prisoner, now cut a chunk of this size, destroy every enemy along the way to build up your “mojo” power in order to cut through these metal plates, win. Deviate more than a little bit, fail.

I can’t help but screw around on each new stage, though, learning the ins and outs of a new airship, dodging enemies and trying to outdo myself on cutting away huge chunks. It always starts out fun but as I run out of time or miss my goals I restart repeatedly until I realize there’s only a few timely paths to take. By then it’s boiled down to a speedrun of perfectly timed button presses and that just isn’t enjoyable to me in the least.

It’s another game where the designer’s idea of fun and my own start out on the same page but wind up being as different as an encyclopedia and a comic book. I’m still looking forward to finishing Patchwork Heroes, it seems to be on perpetual pause as long as I keep the PSP juiced up, but it may only be a hollow victory for my backlog roster by the time I’ve mastered its demands of perfection.