No, I'm not dead.

Crashed my car? Sure, I can get another.
Wearing stilettos and a dress with slits up to here? Oh so fun.
Shot in the back? I've got great friends.
Squished by a troll? They are big, you know.
Thrown through a glass wall? Sure, why not?

So yah... I haven't posted cuz I've been gaming. And a little jaunt to Vegas and Europe, but that's beside the point. We're talking about games, pal.

If you can't figure it out, above I was referring to a bunch of new games that I've been playing: Burnout 3, Bloodrayne 2, Halo 2, Lord of the Rings: Third Age, and Dead or Alive Ultimate.

So a bit slow on the posting front, but I'll try to post a bit about each over time. Lately, I've been playing Third Age. Very good looking and fun, but so far it has seemed a bit easy. After I get further through, then I'll write some more.

And good news: Christmas is coming. And you know what that means: tons of new games released. In particular, Ghost Recon 2. Now, where is that friend of mine... I've got a machine gun to show him...


One of the key aspects of most video game are the "animations". Typically, this is with respect to various people, animals, monsters, or what-have-you on the video screen. The best animations are life-like, fluid, respect the surroundings, and even use the environment when possible.

A game like Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball has excellent characters models (probably the most life-like models out there today), but it does not have a rich set of animations. On the volleyball court, the women don't have a bunch of moves, though what they do have are very fluid and realistic. In some of the more voyeuristic modes, they move fluidly, but they still have a limited set of animations.

Compare that to a game like Ninja Gaiden. In that game, Ryu looks and moves with near perfection. His running, his flowing movement from one attack into a defense into a jump off a wall, how he wields nunchuks and swords... all of them done with a rich, flowing, and varied set of animations. He sometimes gets clipped by the terrain, but it rarely draws you away from the utter amazement of watching him move.

One the latest games that I just bought, BloodRayne 2, has got some truly amazing moves. The character model is also fantastic. In word, hot. In the initial levels, she has a long dress on which is slit on each side all the way up to here. Yah, perv: upskirts are there. What is amazing is watching her in combat with the dress and her hair flowing around her as she glides and spins and jumps from one stance or attack or defense to another. Very, very nice. I haven't played through enough to comment on game play (seems fine so far), but the graphics are quite amazing.

Other games with excellent animations: Otogi and Otogi 2, the Splinter Cell series, and even Psi Ops: the Mindgate Conspiracy. These are all amazing games and are excellent demonstrations of some of the best animations out there.


Well, I finished Fable a couple nights ago. It was a definitely quite cool.

The graphics and visual style are exellent. The animations are beautiful (people walking around, as you "emote", while in combat, with spells, etc). Heck, even the grass waves in the wind. Rad.

Combat in Fable is very smooth and straight-forward. I never really used my bow -- generally, I just play tanks that wade into combat. I did find the "Force Push" skill to be highly useful. Excellent for crowd clearing. At max'd level, it did some good damage, too. I'd bash a group with it, then run after one the guys. By the time the others picked themselves up and regrouped around me, then I'd push them all back again. It didn't work so well agains the big trolls tho :-)

The story line is rather light, but it works well. The various quests and progressive opening of areas leads you through the story very well.

One negative: the game would "stutter" every now and then when I ran places. It never did that in combat. I think it was mostly about loading new areas/textures.

I did just about every side quest and optional quest possible. All told, it took me about 22 hours to finish the game. I've heard that you can do it in 15; I just like to explore and see what else is doable. For example, I had four wives, about eight houses, and had travelled all over the place several times.

I'm not sure whether to reply it as evil now, though. Your alignment doesn't really change the gameplay that much, and I'm not sure that I want to put in the time just to see my character grow big old horns on his head.

I very much recommend Fable. It is a fantastic RPG. You have many, many ways to grow your character along different paths. The story is not deep, but the graphics are amazing, the potential character directions are simply incredible, and the quest/explore/combat is very good.


Yet again, Starcraft: Ghost has been delayed. We're now looking at June of next year. Damn thing better be worth the wait...

Until then, here are the top games on my watch list:
  • Otogi 2
  • Need for Speed Underground 2
  • Ghost Recon 2
  • dang, that's a lot of "2" games...
  • KOTOR 2 (yah yah, another one)
  • Halo 2 (see a pattern yet?)
  • Dead or Alive: Ultimate (not a 2!!! actually, it is like a billion or so) -- this baby comes out in about two weeks!
I'm keeping my eye on BloodRayne 2 (rented/played the first; it wasn't bad; this one looks way better; out next week!). Also: Mercenaries, Far Cry, Jade Empire (yay! ... but next March), Red Ninja, Kameo, and Bard's Tale. There are a few others that I'm tracking but want to see more previews and info about them.

Hoo boy... this holiday season is looking up! Last was nuts. I was buried when so many top-notch games came out. But... I'd call that a Happy Problem.

Lookee there...

Ya know, I'm not normally one to say, "I told you so", but hey. I told you so.

Burnout 3 is tearing up the charts. Reviews are giving it raves left and right. metacritic is listing Burnout 3 as the number three game overall (behind Halo and the GTA double pack).

I'm still waiting on my friend at EA to score a copy of this bad boy, but in the interim, you can read a review from those Penny Arcade boys. Again, they give it blistering marks.


Are you still sitting there? Get to the store. What's wrong with you?

Strategic Gaming

Some of the best games are those with strategic elements to them. Where you need to stop and think about how you're going to solve the particulare issue at hand. The best games give you multiple options for a solution. There are definitely times when you really don't want or care to think about your game, but simply to play. Racing games are a good example for those.

But strategy games... I'm talking about things like Hitman, where you need to plan your strategy for infiltrating some location, wiping out your target, and exiting cleanly. There are lots of options and approaches -- snipe the target from a distance? put on a disguise and garrotte him? walk into his location mowing everything down in your path? Options!

Dynasty Warriors is also very good. I've written about it before as a mindless killfest. But between the bouts of mayhem, there is a lot of strategy necessary. Which units do you mow down first? What officers do you go after? Can you wipe out the guard retinue before they escort that officer off the map? When the map first starts up, it takes some sitting back and some thought to plan an approach to the mission.

One of my favorite games when I'm in a strategy mood is Ghost Recon. It takes some serious thought to figure out how to navigate the map and take out baddies without having them kick your team's ass. With Ghost Recon, I really want to be able to complete the level without damage to my team. Thus, planning an approach to the level is quite important. Patience is also helpful with this game. Tracking down the baddies, waiting for them to hit that sweet target spot, or creeping along to ambush them.

Ghost Recon is simply a great game for whackin' bad guys, and doing it in style.

Got Monkeys?

If you're into FPS's, one of the best shooters that I've played is Timesplitters. I'm not a huge fan of th FPS genre, but Timesplitters is quite excellent.

I first ran into it on the PS2. When I first got the PS2, I picked up a game from each genre, and TS was the shooter. It is fast. I mean really fast. The game never slowed, even when we did four player deathmatches on the console (thank you, Mr Multitap).

Then TS2 came out for the Xbox, I was all over it. Way, way better. Improved graphics, that kickass framerate, and even more player models, weapons, and locations. The story line on these games is pretty lame, but who cares.

If you're looking for a great game for parties, then this is it. Fun environments, fun weapons, and the only game where you can play as a monkey carrying a rocket launcher. Fear the monkey.

(yah, yah... Halo is great for party deathmatches, too, but it doesn't have monkeys)


I've been playing some Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy lately. It rocks. Your various powers unfold as you start to play the game. First comes telekinesis. Then remote viewing. And then "mind drain". The latter is awesome. You can recover psychic go-go juice from corpses. No more need for powerups to replenish your psi power. But even better? Sneak up behind a live person and mind drain them. A kickass lightning bolt goes between you and your (ahem) subject and they lift into the air as you start sucking their brain. Voom voom voom! And then BLAM! Their head goes up in a merry fountain of giblets.

Psi-Ops is proving to be some serious fun. Yes, you've got guns and can shoot the crap outta the bad guys. But it takes a lot of hits, and they're usually wailing on you, too. But use a telekinesis on them? Whap! Whap! As you toss them around like rag dolls. It's very satisfying...

I've heard the game is a bit on the short side, but no matter. I've got the sucker on hard, and I'm just too methodical with this stuff. It should prove to be many, many hours of enjoyment, making this game well worth the purchase.

And the games keep rolling in...

I just ordered Sudeki and Rallisport Challenge 2.

I played a demo of the latter, and it was quite cool. Some awesome graphics, though I'm not sure about the overall feel of the game. But for 25 bucks, why the heck not? I know I can get that much enjoyment out of it. I'll post some info after I get a chance to really dig into the thing. The interesting point for RS2 is the rally aspect. Street racing has got Need for Speed: Underground or Midnight Club II. Track racing is probably best served by TOCA (though I haven't played it, it has been getting some awesome reviews). I'm not much of a track racer, so I don't have much personal experience to relate there (just what I've read, seen or heard).

And Sudeki. Well, yah. I've talked about it before. Definitely looking forward to it...


Much of the gaming "scene" is defined and driven by "twitch" games. Also known as the First Person Shooter. Doom started it all. Since that time, hardware, performance, and frames per second are the measure of the day. Wanna be cool? Well, you can't just have a computer. It has to be a "gaming rig".

Doom led into Quake, into Half-Life, into Counterstrike, into Unreal. Okay. Maybe not that order, but those are the games that define twitch. Those games where your reflexes have to be at 110%. When that single pixel appears on your screen as an enemy starts to round a corner, and you slam your thumb down, "BLAM!". Twitch, twitch, twitch.

Our next twitcher for the Xbox comes out momentarily: the long-awaited release of Doom 3. Half-life is on deck for (maybe!) next spring, and Timesplitters 3 for later next year.

When playing with friends, it can be great. I'm usually up for a Halo deathmatch, but while I'm pretty good, I know that there are zillions of players who could totally school me. For shooter games, I tend towards the more strategic and tactical games. Things like Splinter Cell, or Rogue Ops, or Soldier of Fortune. These are games where you can slow down and use your brain to dominate the game, rather than reflexes.

I just want to conclude with a shout out to Angela in Illinois. She reminded me of where gaming really started. Doom has certainly started the latest era of high-power gaming, but the true roots of video gaming originate back in the 80's. I want to stick to the Xbox in this blog, but for those with a bit of nostaliga, please raise a toast to Drol, Marauder, Bilestoad, and all those other games you grew up with.

Sudeki is out...

I've got an "inside" in Microsoft (the publisher of Sudeki), so I'm going to order the game via my friend. However, it hasn't shown up in their internal, online store yet. I would probably just pay for the whole thing and start playing it right away, but I'm out of town all next week. May as well do the slow order and have it when I get home...

Very exciting. New RPG. Woot!

Tho I did read a review that said it is about 20 hours. That's a little on the short side for an RPG, but that also means a great chance of finishing the thing. (tho I finished Morrowind after untold hours, so maybe "short-ish" isn't really necessary...)

And Fable comes out in September. Life is looking good...

Crash! Boom! Kablooie!

Earlier, I mentioned how Need for Speed: Underground is so completely immersive. You fly along the city streets at a breakneck pace. Lights go zooming by, taillights reflect in the light sheen of water on the pavement, you barely keep the car on the road as you careen around that final corner... NFSU simply moves. Everything about the game puts you there.

There is another driving game which deserves at least as much praise. It's a series called Burnout. This game started out as a basic racing game with a bit of bonuses for driving dangerously (catching air, drifting, driving against traffic, and near misses). All quite competent, but what captured everybody's eyes (and commentary!) were the crashes. Burnout didn't simply send you spinning out, maybe with a little explosion or somesuch. In this one, your car is literally demolished. Parts flying, glass shattering, a shorn off bumper sliding across the pavement, and the twisted remains of your car body hurtling into that little compact car tooling up the cross street. The crashes were simply impressive. Nothing had been done like it before.

Along comes Burnout 2. They knew where the bread was buttered. This game had a crash mode. The entire goal was simply to crash your car and cause as much damage as possible. Well, "as much as possible" generally means playing pinball with cross traffic. The strategy is to hit the cars just so to create a pile-up like that and then bounce over there to cause a secondary pile-up. Bing! Bing! Bing! The dollars of damage ring up as you watch your car get shredded across the highway leaving twisted hunks of family cars, semis, and busses in its path. The experience is exhilarating.

I seriously lost it when my brother-in-law plowed into a big-rig tanker just so and caused that sucker to fly into the air end-over-end. Sure, just a bit unrealistic, but the adrenaline of watching that much metal spin into the sky... unnatural, but so, so satisfying as it crunches back to the hard concrete and skids into the barrier.

Burnout is fun. Pure, visceral fun. It doesn't have quite the driving immersion as NFSU, but when you're flying down a beach highway on the wrong side of the road, twitching into the other lane to avoid some oncoming traffic, and just hoping that, as you crest that low rise, you won't suddenly find yourself nose-to-nose with a car... it's a serious rush. The game is largely about the magnificent crashes, but the driving portions and the unlockables are also fantastic.

Rent this game. Now. And when Burnout 3 comes out this September -- buy it. Okay. Maybe wait for the review if you're timid. But after you play the game, you'll understand. This game is a keeper.


Oooh. EBgames is currently running a 10% off special. Any in-stock game gets the discount. Great discount, but oof... if I wanted the game, then I would have ordered it by now. I want a discount on all pre-orders, dammit.

Of course, this is a good time to review those old games which I passed up. They may have dropped in price since they first came out, and with the extra discount, they might be kinda nice. For example, Rallisport Challenge 2, or MtG: Battleground. Undecided...

Mosh Pit. Chinese Style.

Ever feel like committing wonton destruction? Walking through wave after wave of opponents, cutting them down? Watching the enemy run at you, knowing he's going to call you "Daddy" in a few moments?

Okay. Maybe you don't. But I do. There is a definite satisfaction to simply cause a bit of mayhem every now and then. My favorite game for this is Dynasty Warriors. I first picked up DW 3 for the PS2 a few years ago, and then got DW4 for the Xbox last September. I would consider Dynasty Warriors to be a modern day Robotron. It just makes me think of that old Star Trek episode where they run into Jack the Ripper's spirit, and he's yelling out, "Die! Die! Die! ... you'll all die!"

Well, Robotron is like that. But Dynasty Warriors has got even more going for it. Your warrior gains in experience, opening new slots for weapons and other items. Your character's attack and defense strength grows. Your primary weapon also gains experience, powering up to become a true badness bringer of death. Throw in items to collect, which have various power levels, increasing mission difficulty, and huge numbers of unlockables. You can play this game over and over and over.

So the characters have stories of their progression towards hero status, back in feudal China. I've played entirely through the story for about five or six characters. Unlocking more powerful items. Powering up each of the characters. Opening new maps.

And battling hordes of enemies. But it still isn't just that simple. You start on a map, with various officers and groups of enemies under those officers' control. Your job is to cut down a specific general (or one of a few other goals). Yet you have to plan your way to get through the masses of enemies and get to that general. And maintain morale. And keep your own general alive (generally by killing their hordes before they kill your horders).

The game can be a bit repetitive, but it is deep. For that late night, when your brain is pretty well mushy... this game rocks. The graphics aren't exactly something you'd write home about, but it certainly has a gameplay that you would.

Samurai Warriors is going to be released in about two weeks. It is also from Koei and has pretty much the same game play. Some early reviews (of the PS2 version) note a more limited set of unlockables. This one is set in Japan rather than the Nth Chinese setting. I'm on the fence about it, and will wait for the Xbox reviews to come in.

Until then... I've got DW4...

Driver 3

So I've spent a couple nights playing Driver 3, aka DRIV3R. It has taken a bit of time to get used to the car physics -- in particular, how tightly a car grips when going around a corner.

The game looks great (if you can forgive some pop-up), and the cars (and damage to them) looks fantastic. But the character movement is a bit touchy. Car handling seems quite fine. The missions are kind of a bitch, though. You'll find yourself trying a particular mission over and over. One wrong move and it's off to retry-land. Missions in GTA are much more forgiving. I never had to retry them so much.

The guns are very good, along with gun combat. I wish you could peek/lean around a corner, though. Way too often, I end up moving out from a corner simply to get somebody into my gunsights... BLAM! Down I go. And back to retrying the mission. Sigh.

Vehicles are neat. I've already been in multiple cars and boats. From a demo scene, it looks like motorcycles, too. Oh, and a cop car. With sirens.

The game is very linear so far. From one mission right to the next. I'm not sure where the variety is here. You can certainly "free drive" around the city, but I haven't tried that yet, so I'm not sure what it gives you. Within the missions, there is very little variability. "Follow this guy" or "Go over there and wax some guys." Not a lot of strategy there.

So far, it is nice. The gameplay doesn't beat GTA though. While I still have some more game to go, and might get blown away, I'd highly recommend going for the GTA double pack instead of this one. If you've already done GTA and want some driving/mission gaming, then this game certainly seems fine.

I want my Nova!

You know. Nova. The hot babe in Starcraft: Ghost. Sigh. One of the developers (Nihilistic) was working with Blizzard on the game. They just left the project. So the game release has been pushed out to at least next February.

Crap. And it was supposed to have come out this month.


Starts slow and easy, then it starts stepping up.

During the first part of the game, it's a hand-to-hand brawler. Much like some of the pics that I've seen of Breakdown. So you're moving through the game beating the crap outta various people. The combat is pretty good -- various blocks and different types of kicks and punches are possible. It can get a bit crazy, but not a big issue.

Then you get a gun. And "slow and easy" just doesn't apply any more. You have to be fast and hella accurate with your assault rifle. If not... BOOM! You're down. Of course, it may simply be that I've cranked up the difficulty :-)

The reviews say the game is relatively short. I'm not sure how replayable it is, so that's why I cranked the difficulty. It would kind of suck to just blow right through the game. Have to work for it...

The way that your goals are defined is also really cool. It is always totally clear what you need to do. There is sort of a running list of your goals. As you complete each part, it changes to the next thing. Very slick.

The game has been awesome so far, and it is way cool to see more of the Riddick universe filled in through the game story. I worry about the length, but let's see whether that will be a problem by the time that I finish.


I mentioned the game Sudeki earlier. Big, beautiful RPG coming out next month. All the screenshots look great, and some of the previews about the story line sound excellent. And how can an RPG be bad?!

Ah, but sadness. It just got pushed back to July 20th (from the 13th). Not a very good sign given how close that is. Hopefully, it is about production and distribution issues instead of last minute game problems.

I typically buy my games from EB Games. There is a very good wish list system there, which I use to track all the games that seem "interesting", but are not out yet. Last year, I used to use Amazon for this, but they didn't have Rogue Ops on their site. So... off to ebgames. Where was I going with this? Well, ebgames has got about 100 screenshots of the game. GameSpy has fewer, but they are a bit larger.

Whatever the case... go check out the screenshots. Some amazing detail and vivid color. There is an excellent variety of areas, characters, and oh-so-pretty effects.

Now if it would just ship...

Almost there

I thought I was just about done with the new Splinter Cell. Capture Sadono, and I'm good to go! Did that. Oop. There's more.

Can't really complain though. Both Splinter Cells are so cool, that having more levels to play is a Happy Problem(tm).

So I think just one more night, and that should clear up that game. Then I think I'll turn to the Chronicles of Riddick. I just saw the movie last weekend (awesome!), so I think completing the game is the right move...


I believe THE most beautiful game on the xbox is Otogi: Myth of Demons. Of course, Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball runs a close second, but for entirely different reasons. Otogi has got excellent models, scenery, and a wondrous use of color and light. It simply amazes at every point. The battles are flashy, stylistic, and very engaging. This game does not sacrifice gameplay for beauty.

It can also be a great hack and slash. On some levels, there is significant respawning going on. (I forget the level, but the one with the wizard yelling out, "None Shall Pass!" is the best) You can seriously sit there for 30 minutes just cutting down the monsters to level yourself up. When you're done, turn around and give the smackdown to the boss.

The main character has got some excellent jumping, and the gliding... Wow, the glide! His clothes flutter in the breeze as he descends across the level. This thing oozes style. And then you have the levels with big crystals, and the one with monster blobs, and the nifty chrome skulls, and ... Fine. I'll stop.

I played Otogi straight through. Then I played it again, all powered up with my kickass weapons from the frist play through. Rock.

And the best thing of all? Otogi 2 is coming out in October. Hot frickin' damn.

More Games A-cometh

I debated on whether to order Shadow Ops: Red Mercury or not. I've got a lot of games to play, and it was debatable on whether I needed Yet Another Shooter Adventure. But I broke down and did it anyway. I like the game genre, and the production value on Shadow Ops is quite good. I'll put it in line behind Tenchu or something :-)

Also ordered Psi-Ops: the Mindgate Conspiracy. Definitely had to do that. "Mr Bad Guy -- meet Mr Wall. Oh? Did that hurt? Sorry. Here, meet him again so you stop talking." Telekinesis, baby!

Lastly, I ordered Driv3r (aka Driver 3). Just can't pass up a good GTA clone.

The first two should arrive later this week. Driv3r isn't out until next week. Oh, and for chuckles, the Psi-Ops also comes with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. I don't really want/need that game, but maybe a friend is interested.

RPG Goodness

One word: Morrowind

Three words: sucked my life

Two years ago, Morrowind came out for the Xbox. That was the impetus for my purchase of the Xbox. I went out and bought an Xbox + Morrowind. And then I proceeded to dump hour upon hour upon day... for many weeks. I really don't know how many hours that I put into the game. Hundreds. If I counted, then I couldn't dodge the question when somebody asked me just how insane I was. "A lot" is way better than "oh, about 300 hours"

In a nutshell, Morrowind defines freedom. There is no other game on the planet that has its open-ended play. GTA? Not even close. I spent a ton of time just doing side-quests and character development, rather than following the main storyline. Eventually, I returned to the story, but only after having a seriously kickass time.

Fable was also slated to have similar open-ended play, although I recently read that it may have been narrowed into a little more linear scope. We'll see when it ships. I'm really waiting for that one. For the intervening months, I think that I'll occupy myself with Sudeki which comes out in July.

If you haven't played Morrowind yet, then I'd highly recommend the Game of the Year edition. It's got all the extra goodies. And for thirty bucks? Hell yah.

Shooter Adventures

Two new action/shooter adventure games are coming out this week. Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, and Shadow Ops: Red Mercury. I'll probably pick them both up.

These follow in the lines of Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, or Rogue Ops. Though the latter is a bit more stealthy than shooter. Most games like these nowadays have some mix of shooter, stealth, and puzzle. Generally an exploration and mission style. Right up my alley!

Psi-Ops has a cool twist with its psychic powers. I played a demo of it. Very awesome, and the physics are great. I'm looking forward to the "mind drain" power -- it sucks the life outta people. Woo!

Shadow Ops is more of a shooter. Also played a demo. It looks very mission-based, with mostly gunning and light on strategy. Simply tactics. Fast-paced, unlike something like Ghost Recon where you can plan things out and move a bit more slowly.

Game reviews

For game reviews, I tend to check out metacritic, and GameSpy. At one point, I used to use GameSpot, but they went for-pay and now they suck.

For game information, GameFAQs rock. There are walkthroughs, item lists, stage/mission/level descriptions, and more.

Fast. Very Fast.

Driving games can be great. Very little to learn to start, so "put in. hit start. woo!" works well. But to be very good, it takes a lot of practice to really understand the driving physics, your car, the surface you're on, the turning, etc. Driving games have a subtle depth to them.

For the xbox? Midnight Club II is an excellent game, and really set the bar for the xbox. It is a sequel to the PS2 only game, Midnight Club Street Racing. I played MC on the PS2, and it rocked. Very addictive and very fun. Gran Turismo was beautiful, but it didn't "grab" you like MC. MC has attitude. When the second generation came out, and was available for the xbox... I was in line. Okay, virtual line. But still. Big anticipation, and I wasn't disappointed.

MC II is a great looking game, and pushes the envelope. Great jumps. Fast cars. Varied race types. And some wonderful online play.

But the master? Need for Speed: Underground. While it doesn't have the rad jumps of MC, it has the varied races, fast cars, and great scenarios. But it turns up the graphics. A lot. This game is frickin' beautiful. And you get to tweak your car to make it your own. You want baby blue break calipers to match that light pink paint job on your car? No problem. You're a pansy, but no problem.

And the sense of speed. Phoooo. Everybody repeat after me: immersion. Great. One more time: immersion. Good job, people!

This is most apparent in the drag races. When you car hits about 120 mph, the controller starts to shake. The screen starts to shake. Motion blur around the edge of the screen. And wind noise. Whoever thought about wind noise? Well, the NFSU guys did. And it works. As you fly down the streets, up-shifting through the gears, your adrenaline starts to pump. It is really awesome. This game puts you right into the car. No other driving game compares.

There is another point which I found amazing. Say you're flying up a gentle incline and hit an intersection. Well, intersections are always level (think: cross-street can't exactly be driving on an incline). So you have this lip that your car flies off of. No problem, every car game handles this. But NFSU? As you're driving, there is always a background noise of your car tires on the pavement. When you catch air, it disappears. Subtle, but oh so perfect. And when your car hits? SQUEAK! on the springs, with an accompanying SLAM!, and your controller jumps in your hand. You can really feel yourself in the car slamming back to the pavement.

There are so many things in this game to just make it scream. You like cars? Driving games? Speed junkie? This is it. A total must have game.

Post Long, That Was

Fine. Here is a short one:

Looking forward to: Fable, Jade Empire, and NFSU2.

(I got a lot more on my list, but those are the high points)

Hitman: Contracts

One of my newer games is Hitman: Contracts. I just finished it a few nights ago.

But back up a step. A year and a half ago, I rented Hitman: Silent Assassin (aka Hitman 2) over the Thanksgiving break. I played that bugger right on through the weekend. Fantastic gameplay. Very open and large levels, varied ways to approach the problem, excellent graphics, and a reasonable storyline.

Well, let's just say that my rating was usually Mass Murderer. My gameplay style was a bit, umm, direct. "You moved!" BLAM! "I see you over there!" BLAM! Of course, all the cool folks would go for the Silent Assassin rating. But holy crap is that hard. No other kills besides your target, no alarms, no injuries, etc. So I just killed everyone. Even the half-naked bimbo in the hot tub.

So this time around, with Contracts, I cranked the difficulty up to Hard. There are four levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Expert(?). I've played enough of these stealthy games that I figured Hard was quite doable. Replayability for this kind of game can be a bit low (once you figure out the best approach to a mission, then why try again?) And then I tried to be less of a walking death machine.

Well, it is still quite a bitch. I was definitely able to reduce the body count, but only got the Silent Assassin rating once. Of course, that felt cool as hell to do that. Got myself a nice unlockable for it, too.

And the game? Even better graphically. Great missions. The story line was not really present this time around, however. It is a series of flashbacks to prior hits, and you play through them again. But that also means they are disjointed. No problem, of course, when the whole goal is whacking some fat executive. The AI in this game is really quite cool, when you alert some guys and they start to search for you. Not quite as smart as the Splinter Cell guys, but hey.

A good amount of the game is trial and error. Thankfully, the load times are decent. (Morrowind is an awesome game, but you can make a trip to the grocery store while it loads a saved game) So in this, you'll find yourself experimenting with different approaches. This is a great part of the game: very challenging, and it makes you think. And when you get frustrated, just pull up a walkthrough on, and get a few hints. It means you won't ever get totally pissed off and just give up.

The final mission was a real bitch. I tried it over and over with various approaches. Finally got a few hints, and got through the level. I exited with an Expert rating, but I think I can do a Silent Assassin on it. Gonna have to load it back up and try...

For some stealthy, murderous action... Hitman: Contracts is a winner. A bit short (10-15 hrs), so a very solid weekend can do it as a rental.

Stealth Games

Thief is credited with starting the whole "stealthy" game genre. However, the genre remained pretty subtle until the original Splinter Cell blew open the doors. Splinter Cell is a technical marvel. The animations, the lighting, the unfolding storyline, the lead character Sam Fisher, and the sound all create a hugely compelling and awesome game.

And immersive. The best example of the immersion is when you're creeping along and somebody hears you, or maybe spots some motion in the shadows. At that point, the "other guys" become alert and will start looking around more actively. But here's the kicker: at the point that they become alert, the game issues this sort of "bong!" sound, which then kicks off some suspense-y music. But that initial bong -- you totally tense up and freeze. You stop and listen to what the guard might mutter. You quickly look around to see what is going on; where the guy might be; is he coming your way? But you physically tense up and react.

That is immersion. And it rules.

You're Kidding, Right?

Yes, it's true. At this point, I have upwards of 60+ games for my Xbox. I've always been ready to buy whatever looks good, but the real pile-on began last fall with the release of a gazillion games for the holiday season. I think that I bought about a dozen over a six week period, and threw another four or so onto my wish list for xmas. Then another couple here, a few there.

My most two recent games are Thief: Deadly Shadows, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. (dang that's a long title) I've put a couple hours into each to check out their legs. Both are great games, and I'll talk more about each later on.

But why am I starting this blog? Well, I enjoy playing games on my Xbox. I've got lots of them, and I've put a ton of time into playing them. I do have a life outside of playing games, but I manage to squeeze in some time with the Xbox. The other day, I was thinking, "if I were to have a blog [when I grow up], it would be cool to have a little tag on the side that said, 'Currently playing: FOO'". Just sort of a little marker that said what I was up to at the time. But that ballooned into "Dang. I've got a lot that I could say about all these games and my experiences with them. Let's make a blog about it."