Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review - God of War Collection

When it comes to certain games, I am a late bloomer. This is true about the much loved – and much hated – God of War franchise. My first Kratos-related quicktime event occurred earlier this year at the Penny Arcade Expo when I tried out the demo for God of War III. I had previously avoided the games for two reasons – the first being that I loved Greek mythology and couldn’t stand seeing it raped by the media. I’d had too many disappointments to think this would be any different. The second reason was that I knew someone who once employed an “anger stick” after each session of the first God of War – meaning he went into the basement and beat the couch with a stick. He also used to order a “car burger” to eat on the way home from fast food restaurants to slake his hunger until he got home, so perhaps I shouldn’t have trusted his word – or that of his terrified wife.

Judgments aside, I’m glad that I waited so long to try the game out, as Sony very recently released the first two games together on one handy blu-ray disc, along with the demo for the third, coming out this March. This was a dream come true for someone as anal retentive as I am – I can’t stand playing games out of order. So I dove right into the remastered God of War and subjected myself to all the fun…and all the frustration.

The story of the first God of War is very simple: Kratos, an ambitious young Spartan general, calls out to Ares for help on the battlefield, and becomes his servant. Kratos soon discovers that being the servant of the God of War lends itself to no end of rape, pillage, and generally unpleasant situations. After years of servitude, Kratos simply wants to be released from his suffering and torment. Athena appeals to him for help when Ares attacks Athens, and Kratos sees a chance to get revenge.

At first, I loved the game – the puzzles, the battles, even the bosses and their wrist-numbing quicktime events – all of it was great. I couldn’t understand why people were frustrated while playing the game. I began to see it as I hit a few bumps in the road, places where the game mechanics were terrible. I painfully started to understand the mythos that surrounded the game.

And then I got to Hades.

Sweet mother of mercy, did I hate Hades. My boyfriend, Mike, had watched a lot of videos about the games after playing them, and he said that even the director, David Jaffe, admitted the horrendous flaws in Hades. That section was added in because they felt the game wasn’t long enough, and it was the only part of the game not strictly quality-controlled…and boy, does it ever show right through the veneer of lava and flames. I crawled my way to the end, determined to just finish it.

I debated whether or not I wanted to start God of War II…ever. Mike convinced me it was worth it, that there was nothing nearly as frustrating as Hades, that there was a great storyline to this game and I was going to love it. (His argument is always that I love Battle of Olympus despite the fact that it’s not true to myth – but taking something I adored as an adolescent based on my favorite Greek myth is totally different than taking all the most famous stories and jumbling them into one convenient delivery system for Kratos – even if they DID get Harry Hamlin, Perseus from Clash of the Titans, to voice Perseus.) Against my better judgment, I stepped into the Titan-fueled waters of God of War II.

I’ll admit to several betters – the game play is vastly improved. The battles flow much more fluidly, and it’s easier to dodge and block out of special moves. There are no horrendously glitchy platforming sections, either. Any time a section of the platforming is less than stellar, it’s because either you haven’t figured out what you’re supposed to do, or what you’re supposed to do initially seems so ridiculous that you can’t wrap your brain around what they’re asking. Fortunately, they’ve also improved this game by giving better hints – that is, giving ANY hints at all. The story is also much better, and while not at all even remotely canonical (can I say canonical about Greek mythology?), it is interesting to see the way they incorporate the characters.

However, these things brought with them inherent flaws. My wrists and elbows are killing me from incessant quicktime events. I hurled a controller for the first time in 22 years – since playing Zelda II: the Adventures of Link as a kid. (Can you guess what part? I’ll give you a hint – it involved the hammer.) The story, while better, lost cohesion, and I frequently found myself asking why I was in a certain place and what exactly I was trying to accomplish. In spite of all of this, the ending is epic, with a plot twist almost ridiculous in its predictability.

There are several bonuses to getting the God of War Collection – it’s remastered, though only in game play. The cut scenes are still in the original rendering, and the transition can be jarring at times. It has two sets of trophies, one for each game, which is a major plus for me. And, of course, the God of War III E3 demo is available on it as well, so that you can play that controversial scene of ripping Helios’ head off over, and over, and over again, right in the privacy of your living room.

Final analysis: worth the buy. I’m hoping my next PSP purchase will be God of War: Chains of Olympus. And now, I’m going to go put my right elbow on ice.

Review - Batman: Arkham Asylum

This was my first blog post at No Game Network. I still haven't finished my PAX review!


Please note: my PAX review is on the way, and will be here soon. For now, satiate yourself with this tale of the caped crusader, and know I slave over a keyboard to bring you more words.

Batman: Arkham Asylum does a lot of things for me. It doesn’t feed the cats or wash the dishes, but it does make me feel like I have just administered a lot of justice…with my fists. It is a highly satisfying brawling game composed of one part ass beating, one part stealthy sneaking, and one part puzzle solving. More than anything, it is a Batman fan’s dream come true: it features a plethora of villains and is rife with enough back story to make the most devout comic book fan squee with joy.

The game starts with a cinematic of Batman bringing the Joker to Arkham Island. Batman is highly suspicious of the Joker, who – uncharacteristically – has given up without much of a fight, causing Batman to insist on escorting him into the asylum. This is where things go very suddenly – and very terribly – wrong. We discover the Joker meant for it to happen all along, and with the help of Harley Quinn, begins to quickly and efficiently take over the island.

At first, the game seemed too easy. I was playing it on normal, and I kept thinking to myself, either this game is really simple or I have gotten totally amazing at video games. The foes were easy to defeat (though even as they got harder, it was so much fun to fight them that while it felt challenging, I just kept coming back to the word “satisfying). The Riddler has hidden trophies and set up puzzles all over the island, which, initially, were also quite easy. But then, abruptly, the game became very hard, and I realized the entire beginning sequence of the game was something of a tutorial – a warm-up, so to speak – for the rest of the game. Not long after that, the game became totally awesome. The creators were trying to do something dark, and succeeded in a way that was more than a little scary.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but this is my review, so I’ll just say if you don’t want to know what happens, you might want to stop reading here. I simply wanted to comment on my favorite parts of the game, which were, by far, the scenes in which the Scarecrow (how I wish they got Cillian Murphy to voice that villain!) drugged Batman and things go completely – no pun intended – batshit fucking loco. The first time it happened, I thought I was going crazy, but once I caught on to what was happening, I slid into the sudden change in gameplay and let it roll over me. It was amazing.

The one complaint many people have is that the game is too short. I beat it in just 6 days, so I can see where they’re coming from. But for me, the game was so satisfying from start to finish that I can’t voice that as a complaint. I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted gathering the Riddler trophies and solving his puzzles because I was wrapped up in finding out what happened next in the story. I do plan on going back and finding everything, which, to me, is what a great game is all about: it’s one you want to go back to, one you crave, even after you beat it. This is why I buy games instead of renting them – if I were a renter, I’d end up with a stack of games that I couldn’t let go of. (And for everyone who says they want to “try the game out first,” my only reply is: isn’t that what demos are for?)

Tangent aside, my final word on Batman: Arkham Asylum is: yes. Yes, very much so.


The good news is: I've been writing! A lot. I'll be posting it in here as soon as possible. It's been a really great time for me writing-wise the last few weeks.

The bad news is: I haven't had nearly enough time to play all the games I want to play. The main reason for that is because I got into grad school and it kicked my butt the first term. I took two online courses in the Library and Information Sciences program at Drexel - Action Research (statistics) and Information Users and Services - and worked hard and got two A's! I'm very proud of this accomplishment.

I have beaten a lot of games, but I'm still working on the Final Fantasy series, which I started at the beginning and want to finish before XIII comes out here in North America (on the day after my birthday!). We'll see if I can do it - I'm so close to the end of 4 I can taste it, and I've got 5 ready to go. I'm planning to write a feature for Press 1 about this, so I'm hoping I can get it finished in time.

Keep an eye out for some work coming up soon, hopefully tomorrow. I've also been watching some movies (*gasp!*) and Mike and I watched The Office (American) and now we're on Sopranos - season 4. I've been reading a ton and I picked up knitting again, which feels sooooo good. And I am so ecited for Christmas I could stay up all night over it :)

Hope you are doing well! More to follow.