Friday, March 24, 2006

Currently Interacting With...

[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming]

I'm currently spending some quality time with the following electronic media.

Burnout Legends (PSP): A frankly amazing port of the Burnout franchise to a handheld format. Were it not for the PSP's hideous hand-deforming ergonomics, you'd almost forget you weren't playing a console. It's a like a remix of the four console titles, including old gameplay favourites like Pursuit Mode, while missing out on the more recent Burnout Revenge's ability to check same-way traffic. Probably the only less-than-perfect note of the game is Crash Mode, where the limitations of the hardware conspire to cause a relatively low number of on-screen vehicles, and a bevy of camera issues which make it really hard to make effective use of the series' trademark Crashbreaker mechanic. But the short-burst playing style inherent in a handheld release makes Crash Mode still an ideal playing choice, so all round you don't worry too much. Did I mention this game supports pretty much every multiplayer under the sun, including a gamesharing mode that's only limited by how much time you're prepared to spend uploading levels and cars to friends? Warning: Do not confuse this game with the identically titled DS version! The DS version is rubbish and should be avoided by all sensible people!

Soulcalibur III (PS2): I've had this one awhile. After an initial burst of activity to unlock the key characters, I put it aside, and have been pretty much only playing it when the opportunity for some serious multiplayer arises. For those who haven't seen it yet, it's an incremental, rather than evolutionary, improvement over the last title in the series. Heihachi, Link and Spawn are gone, and newcomers Zasalamel, Tira, and Setsuka join the pack. Also returning are original-style Siegfried, Rock, Li Long, Arthur, Hwang, and pretty much every other character who's ever appeared in a Soulcalibur or Soul Edge game. You can't fault the roster. There's also a create-a-fighter mode, which basically amounts to playing dress-up-dolls with a fairly generic base model and then assigning it one of a bunch of specially designed and not particularly well balanced unique fighting styles/movesets. What prompted my return to the game was a multiplayer session against soon-to-be-married Chris Nairn, wherein I finally got a handle on using the scythe-wielding Zasalamel. It's amazing how suddenly grokking a character can reinvigorate the whole title. I plan to continue making Matt and AJ cry with vicious scythe combos over coming weeks.

Facade (PC): Not a commercial release; don't feel bad if you haven't heard of it. This odd little game is part experiment, part proof of concept, and part challenge to game designers. You play a guest at the house of two married friends on the verge of a messy breakup. Their breakup forms the story; you're challenged to interact so as to affect the outcome. My first attempt, though interesting, was largely unsuccessful. The game seems to be a fairly excellent demonstration of AI driven characterisation and combining plot elements or "beats" to produce a unique story while still retaining narrative cohesion. Unfortunately, the underlying situation is inherently stressful and non-fun, making it less something you want to experiment with and more something to toy with once or twice and then escape from. It's a free and legal download via Bittorrent, though, so if you have the bandwidth I strongly recommend you to check it out.

Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS): This is just another aspect of Nintendo's genious. It's a handheld port-slash-extension of the very successful Gamecube title. I personally don't get a lot out of this for my own part: you play what's essentially a human child living in a town populated by anthropomorphic animals. You wander around chatting to the townsfolk, collecting fruit and shells off the ground, and selling them to a raccoon of dubious moral character in order to pay off your mortgage and buy a bigger house. It feels a lot like World of Warcraft without the monsters, the levelling, the equipment, and the huge number of other players. One neat thing is you can visit the towns of other players who have the game and are within wireless range, so naturally I bought my girlfriend a copy a while back and she's been enthusiastically working her way through it. What it lacks in shooting people in the head is neatly compensated by my ability to play it socially with girls. The Gamecube version featured the ability to unlock full playable versions of classic NES games; that is sadly missing from the DS version and sorely missed.

And of course I'm still sinking time into World of Warcraft. It's a busy life.

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