Thursday, August 09, 2007

Gaming Links and Demo Notes

First off, here's a little teaser for next week. I'm playing a PC game now that I am absolutely certain will be one of my top three PC games of the year, and it may well be number one. It's brilliantly designed, it's challenging, and it's old-school.

I'll tell you more next week. For now, here are some gaming links and demo impressions.

First off, DQ reader Fredrik Skarstedt recently finished a one-level demo for a PC game called Switching Gears, and I played it last night. It's very clever and has a strong Futurama vibe throughout, including some extremely funny moments. First, be sure and use the bubble gun to your advantage, because watching enemies float into the sky, then come crashing down seconds later, is a riot. Also, don't miss the billboard for "Repression" perfume, which is totally inspired.

Have fun and here's the link.

Matthew Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment. This month's column is on the horror genre, and you can read it here.

Bioshock has gone gold, by the way. If I had to pick a game that I thought was going to be the best game of the year, I'd pick this one, and I hope it's as great as I expect it to be.

I've recently played three demos on XBL: Eternal Sonata, Blue Dragon, and Stranglehold. What surprises me most is how interesting they all are, although in completely different ways.

Eternal Sonata is extravagantly beautiful, with vibrant colors and meticulously drawn backgrounds. It takes your breath away, really.

The camera is also fixed, not following, so it's very reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII in that regard, and it has that kind of vibe in general, which is a good thing. I'm actually very surprised that more people aren't talking about this game, because it looks and plays like it was carefully, lovingly crafted.

Blue Dragon is not as beautiful as Eternal Sonata, but its combat mechanics are far more complex and interesting, and you can play for up to an hour in two different modes in the demo, which is quite generous.

Combat is an interesting combination of turn-based and real-time. When you target someone for an attack, there's a meter that's divided into segments for both your enemies and your teammates. You charge up your attack with this meter, and the longer you let it charge, the more people will attack before you. The segments let you see the order and duration of upcoming attacks, so you can charge up your attack but still get in before a particular enemy strikes.

I only played for half an hour, but it was more than enough to make me look forward to the full version. Yes, it seems quite conventional, but it also seems absolutely solid.

Today, I played Stanglehold. Midway claims this is the most expensive game ever made, and while that's certainly nothing more than marketing fluff, it certainly looks remarkable, with some of the best graphics I've seen on the 360.

It would be simplistic to call the game "Max Payne on steroids," but it does give you a feel for how it all works--lots of situations where you're facing huge odds against you, at least in the demo. Running. Gunning. Bullet time. Stranglehold distinguishes itself, though, by the interactivity with the environment and the ability to pull off some stupidly cool moves--like sliding down railings.

There were only two things I didn't like in the demo. One when you approach something like a table, you automatically slide across it. That's a cool idea, and faithful to its cinematic origins, but the slide animation really doesn't look very good, at least to me.

My second concern is related to design choices. The whole purpose of the game is to make you feel like you are Inspector Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) in a fantastic action film. So why in the world do you put health bars on the freaking screen? You hear when your character's health is low (beating heart, if I remember correctly). That's a good design decision. It's a horrible design decision to have those meters plastered on the screen, because if they weren't there, it would feel like we were in a movie.

Hopefully, we can remove those in the final game. I hope.

Three very strong, very fun demos, and they're not even considered three of the best games coming this fall. We're in for a very fun few months.

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