November 13th, 2008

Back in April I wrote a bit about a few of the games that I was looking forward to most this year. That article has remained pretty popular over the months, and since the future which that feature referred to is now, I thought I would do a follow-up. A few gaming trade shows, a major merger of two gaming juggernauts and a development delay or two later, not quite all of the games on my list have been released yet, but I have gotten my hands on several.

Let’s revisit these in order, shall we?

Battlefield Heroes

Battlefield Heroes’ original release window was estimated to be some time in Summer of 2008. Unfortunately, summer came and went and aside from some Bad Company, Battlefield was nowhere to be seen. EA did, however, begin a closed beta test of the game. While I didn’t apply to the beta (I’d rather play the game in a “finished” state), it would appear that a good number of people did and have been accepted. Impressions coming from them as well as members of the games press that have written official previews have been generally positive. I remain optimistic and looking forward to playing.

Braid

While I’m not sure it was ever promised that Braid would be released on both XBLA and PC simultaneously, it wasn’t. Braid hit the Xbox Live Marketplace in August of this year as a part of Microsoft’s XBLA summer line-up and was met with both critical and consumer acclaim. Creator Jonathan Blow has been very outspoken and forthcoming with opinions, ideas and philosophies pertaining to game design and the industry as a whole following the release of Braid, much of which has done well to color him, in some people’s eyes, as a rather pretentious fellow. I can’t say I’m a much of a fan of Blow myself after reading and listening to several interviews with him, but it won’t stop me from enjoying Braid when it’s finally released on PC. Despite having a 360, I’ve abstained from doing little more than giving the trial a once-over. I wait because I am hopeful that the PC version will include extra content, or possibly even a level editor. Besides that, I generally prefer to experience games on this platform. The Braid website still says that a PC version will be released in 2008, but no word yet on a solid release date or through what channels it will be distributed. I am personally hoping it will be available on Steam with Steamworks integration.

Guild Wars 2

Move along, nothing to see here. Literally. I can’t recall a single new announcement on this game since posting my original article back in April, but I’m still looking forward to playing it in 20**.

Brutal Legend

Remember when Activsion and Vivendi announced their merger and everybody panicked? It seems that they had good reason to. Not only are we now seeing Guitar Hero paraphernalia in World of Warcraft (joke or not, be afraid!), but certain changes were made within the ranks of Vivendi and several studios and their projects were cut loose because of it. Sierra, a subsidiary of Vivendi, has been struggling over the years to reestablish some form of an identity and relevance since its adventure game glory days. Despite having several hotly anticipated games under its wing including Ghostbusters, World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, and, of course, Brutal Legend, Vivendi decided to nix the aging brand and some projects with minimal franchise potential along with it. Ghostbusters seems to have landed on its feet as Dan Aykroyd recently confirmed that it will be published by Atari. World in Conflict developers Massive Entertainment are going to be okay as well with the Ubisoft acquisition being announced just a day or two ago. Things aren’t looking so well for Brutal Legend, however.

Rumors of an EA acquisition of Double Fine have been blowing in the wind, with comments from EA CEO John Riccitiello expressing his interest, as well as his apprehension:

“I have seen it. I am well aware of what the game is. It’s a very significant creative risk. Sometimes significant creative risks end up being some of the world’s best products. Spore was also a significant creative risk. So was The Sims. Portal, BioShock. But so was Grim Fandango.”

We won’t be seeing Brutal Legend this year, unfortunately. Its future in general looks very bleak, but I am confident that Double Fine and their game will find a home.

Saints Row 2

Though THQ originally promised to have Saints Row 2 release simultaneously on three platforms, they’ve only been able to make good on two of them. Guess which two. I’ll give you a minute to think it over. Got it? No, silly, of course the PC wasn’t given priority. We don’t live in bizarro world. Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 owners have been hitting their switches and collecting from their bitches (the money that they make which serves to embiggen their riches) since October, but PC users are being made to wait until January of 2009 to get their hands on some big ass chains.

While I’m fine with waiting while developers ensure that we receive a quality product, having the PC players be the ones constantly left to twiddle their thumbs in anticipation of their multiplatform release is getting tiring. When Microsoft pays out truckloads of cash to have Rock Band be a delayed exclusive to the Xbox 360 over the Playstation 3, I can’t help but feel like a bit of an afterthought as a PC gamer when I’m left to wait for free. Though we only had to wait a week after the console release of Dead Space, many other multiplatform games are having their PC versions pushed to no sooner than December, but as late as Q1 2009. Aside from Saints Row 2, off the top of my head, we’ll also be waiting on Mirror’s Edge, Rise of The Argonauts, Prince of Persia, and Shaun White Snowboarding. This simply wouldn’t happen if there were a hitch with PS3 or Xbox 360 development; all versions would be held back.

Like I said, I’m fine with waiting for a quality product, but sometimes that isn’t all that matters. I’m willing to bet that there won’t be much of a second-wave marketing push, if any, when the PC version of these games hit the shelves. They’ll be an afterthought in the eyes of the games press, much as the recent port of Bully to the PC was. What, you didn’t know that Bully was on the PC now? Of course you didn’t. But I bet you heard all about it when it came to the 360 earlier this year. It’s on Steam for $30 now.

Ahemexcuse me. Frustrations aside, I am still looking forward to Saints Row 2 just as much as I was seven months ago. Perhaps we’ll be rewarded for our patience with some extra content. It’s already known that the PC version will only cost $40, considerably less than console gamers paid for theirs.

Left 4 Dead

Finally! A game that I’ve gotten to play. Well, sort of. It’s still just less than a week from release, but I have gotten to play the generous demo both on Xbox 360 and PC and can offer you my impressions of them both:

Xbox 360: Surprisingly, my initial hands-on with Left 4 Dead was on a console. I played this version of the demo first while I waited for PseudoKnight to finish his PC download. I also played it solo. I went with Normal settings, and I played as Zoey. The game looks and performs great on the Xbox despite some aliasing and low-res detail textures (things like labels, signs posted on walls etc). Though I did enjoy making use of the 180 degree turn button, I thought the controls were a bit floaty. I felt kind of like my legs were always a step or two ahead of me, depending on the direction I was moving. I didn’t find aiming to be too difficult despite using joysticks, but killing zombies also wasn’t very satisfying. I just couldn’t get into it. My lack of immersion may have also been affected by my inevitable scrutinization of the AI companions, likely brought on by the fact that I wasn’t playing with anyone. They’re definitely the same bots that I remember from games like Half-Life 2 or Counter-Strike: Source. They aren’t by any means incompetant, but they’re definitely not a suitable replacement for a real person.

PC: My experience on the PC version of the Left 4 Dead demo was a much more positive one. For starters, I found that sound is a very important part of the game. My 5.1 setup for my TV isn’t bad, but it’s no substitute for being right in front of a monitor with headphones on when it comes to games where atmosphere is everything. I was much more satisfied with controls on the PC, of course, and playing with a real person on Expert mode was infinitely more fun than with AI companions. Detail textures were also crystal clear on PC when set to high; there were some interesting markings, be sure to keep an eye out when and if you end up playing L4D.

LEGO Batman

We’re on a roll; I’ve played this game too, and I actually “finished” it! I even managed to find a glitch.

If you’ve played any of the LEGO Star Wars games or the Indiana Jones game, you pretty much know how LEGO Batman works. That doesn’t mean you should overlook it, however. Batman is the first in the series of Traveler’s Tales’ LEGO games that has the freedom to have an original story; it isn’t tied to a movie franchise or specific events in the comic books. Because of this you have the ability to play not only as a Who’s Who of the Bat family, but also as any villain you face. I didn’t know this upon purchasing the game, but it actually contains two full campaigns, each with three chapters. Once you complete the first chapter of the Hero campaign, you can use a computer in the Bat Cave to switch to Arkham Asylum where you play through the same episodes, but from the villain’s perspective. The levels are entirely different (there are 15 in total on each side, 5 per episode) and you’ll only see small sections of cutscenes repeated between the two campaigns to kind of tie things together and give you perspective as to when certain events are taking place.

I’ve heard many say that they only have fun with LEGO games when they play them co-op. I can see where they’re coming from, and even though I only stayed vigilant in my quest to get all unlocks for about two and a half episodes, I played through LEGO Batman in singleplayer and had a ton of fun. If you’re a Batman fan and generally enjoy the LEGO games, LEGO Batman won’t disappoint.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky

Here we are at what, in April, was the game I was looking forward to most in 2008. While STALKER: Clear Sky never fell from its place, I still have not gotten around to playing it. As with my comic books each week, I have a habit of leaving the best for last. I want to be able to take my time with STALKER and I want the experience to be as smooth as possible. Though I purchased it through Steam on release day, had I begun playing that day I would have begun playing before several patches had been released which included bug fixes, balance tweaks and performance optimizations. I’m confident that when I’m ready for STALKER, it will be all the more ready for me as well.

Wrapping It Up

There are several games that were announced and/or released after making my list in April. I played and completed Crysis: Warhead; every bit as good as its predecessor, bring on more Crysis. Of course I played and enjoyed GTA IV, I’m looking forward to playing it again on PC. I also played and finished Lost Odyssey, a Sakaguchi JRPG that was released for the 360 back in January. It’s one of the most finely crafted traditional JRPGs I’ve ever played. Highly recommend it. Speaking of JRPGs, Persona 4 was announced for December, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel to my favorite RPG of ’07.

It has been a very good year of game releases. Though I’ve been frustrated with the trends in PC delays that I ranted a bit about earlier, I am definitely happy to see increased support for the platform to begin with. Over the last year I can tell that the overall perception and attitude toward PC gaming is improving, but there are still people with loud voices spreading fallacies. Let’s work on squashing shit like this in 2009.

  1. And not a single MMO in the bunch. I’m so proud of you!

  2. Braid looks fantastic, I’m not sure if I can hold out for a PC version.

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