Yes! Someone finally spoke up

I’ve said on numerous occasions off the blog that I feel that GTA IV just might go down in history as the most overrated (in regards to review scores) game of all time. Currently the Xbox 360 version of the game is the highest reviewed game ever, with an average review score of 97.632%. Now, I don’t ever have a problem with a game getting high praise, but I really need to feel that the game deserves it. I need to feel like the review process was thorough, objective, and free from tampering.

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Does GTA IV deserve the title of “highest reviewed game of all time”?

When the GTA IV reviews starting rolling in (starting with the first exclusive handing out a 10/10), I figured reviewers were either caught up in a whirlwind of hype, or the game might really be that good. After playing it for 20+ hours, however, I’m baffled how even the most hype-driven reviewer could be handing down perfect scores. Well, Simon Parkin, a British journalist, offers a few ideas why early reviews for GTA IV were so overwhelmingly positive (including his own), despite the game’s obvious flaws. In his article, found at Gamasutra, many reasons are offered up. Here are a few choice snippets:

Judgments cast before they’d been adequately weighed; words sold before they’d been properly valued; shallow opinions that should have been presented as the first word in a conversation but were dropped with the clacking gavel pound of a conclusion. Yeah, every writer has regrets.

But what’s really nagged and irritated me over the following weeks is that, with a little distance and perspective, the bold proclamation was so obviously made, like so many from within our industry, with the aim of elevating video games to the respectability of more established media via bald association.

The opinion piece [speaking of his own review] was written following a short weekend’s playing of the game just prior to its release and, as I’ve played on through the rest of the story, the fault lines in that specific claim have become ever more apparent. While I adore the slow pacing of the first few hours, the way Nico starts off on the straight and narrow and is dragged into the shadows of the American Dream by forces of poverty and necessity, the game soon enough swings into full adolescent-posing-as-adult narrative fizz.


In the weeks prior to GTA IV’s release, Rockstar made promises that print and online publications would receive early review code so that they might fully ingest and digest Liberty City in order to deliver mature and balanced opinions on its day of launch.

In reality, this was not the case, with precious few publications getting to spend prolonged time with the game ahead of release. The first review of the game came from the UK’s Official Xbox magazine bearing the worrying caveat “based on unfinished code”.

At best then, by the time the game had been played, copy written and subbed ready for the Tuesday morning, most journalists (both in the UK and the US) had played for only a few hours, experiencing just a fraction of the game’s content, a situation testified to by various admissions in professional reviews.

Time Magazine dubbed their piece Grand Theft Auto IV: The 6.24% Review while the Associated Press reviewer, Lou Kesten, admitted to having spent only spent eight hours with the game.

Slate Magazine’s excellent Chris Baker admitted he only had chance to ‘scratch the surface of the game’ going on to say in a comment on N’Gai Croal’s Level Up blog: “I couldn’t even attempt to be definitive…it was kinda liberating”.

The BBC noted the phenomenon saying: “Most reviewers were not sent advance copies of the game, and instead had to attend Rockstar offices or sit in booked hotel rooms to play the game,” where Rockstar could keep an eye and some pressure on them. While these few admitted the partial and necessarily subjective nature of their reviews, how many passed off their impressions as being definitive of the whole?

The piece goes on to offer some suggestions of what can be done with big title reviews, and it offers a little more detail into what went on with the GTA IV review process. Personally I feel that the writer hits home with several points. Here’s the link to the full story: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=18761

My own review for GTA IV is still on its way. While I’m not completely down on the game, it’s safe to say that I’m not about to gush over it. I’ve spent careful time with the game, and I feel that I’m in a position to give an honest and straightforward opinion on the game. Look for the review later this week.

Barack Obama on GTA IV

Barack Obama mentioned GTA IV in a recent speech. He acknowledged that the game isn’t intended for kids, but his greatest concern isn’t with the game’s content, but rather that kids left to be raised by video games rather than spend time outside or doing more uplifting activities. Here’s a snippet of his speech:

“I was just catching the news this morning about Grand Theft Auto, this video game, which is gonna break all records and make goo-gobs of money for whoever designed it.

“Now, this isn’t intended for kids, although I promise you there are kids who are playing it, but these video games are raising our kids…

“Across the board, middle-class, upper-class, working-class kids, they’re spending a huge amount of their time not on their studies, but on entertainment.

“And so part of our job is going to have to be to inspire the entire country to say, ‘How are we giving our kids a thirst for knowledge?’

“And turning off the TV set, and getting them to be engaged and interested, like their future really does matter on how well they do in school.”

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Rather than blaming the content of games, Obama is blaming parents for allowing their kids to live unbalanced lives. If you ask me, this is the correct stance to take. As I grew up, games were less violent, but violence still existed in gaming. As I grew up, however, I was also very involved in sports, was expected to do well in school, and my parents were good to keep an eye on the games I played. As long as they could see that the things I was playing weren’t having an effect on me in a negative way (be it school, physical fitness, or emotional health), they never had a problem with the gaming I did.

The problem isn’t with the games themselves, but rather with the parent that would rather let their 7 yr. old kid spend an extra two or three hours in front of the TV playing games rather than taking them out to the park and teaching them to hit a baseball or throw a football. Kids aren’t going to self-regulate, so parents have to learn to be a bit more proactive and, well, you know, be a parent.

Note: I’m not endorsing Obama for anything nor any other candidate.

The Problems With Patapon

The Patapon craze has died down, but if you hit up any random message board and ask for PSP recommendations, several people are going to proclaim it to be among the best games that the PSP has to offer. Well, after giving Patapon a more than fair chance, I’ve got to come clean with my feelings on the game. Patapon is a fraud. I don’t want to get into the argument of PSP fans overhyping mediocrity (it happens A LOT), but Patapon is their prime and shining example. The game isn’t worthless, but it’s full of crippling issues that would need to be addressed in order to make the game fully enjoyable. So, let’s dig into exactly why Patapon falls short.

Rhythm Games Should Encourage the Beat
I’ll start off with my biggest gripe. Patapon is a rhythm action game with a cool style. You control your army of Patapon by keeping beat and by using pre-determined button sequences. To advance, you do one series of buttons presses, to attack, you do another. Each time you successfully execute a series of presses, the Patapons will echo your beat and then do what you commanded them to do. The problem is that there isn’t any consistent and reliable beat in the soundtrack. Even when the Patapon echo your beat, it’s not always ON BEAT. In fact, many times your Patapon will echo back the words of the beat, but at the wrong tempo. Once you hit Fever mode (triggered by several consecutive on beat button sequences), the Patapon REALLY stat to echo the wrong tempo. It’s infuriating. A good rhythm game encourages you to stay on beat, not challenges you to push through the BS the devs thought would be cute to throw at you. The result is a game that never really lets you connect with the sounds of the game, but rather has you relying on your own foot tapping to keep going.

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Fever Mode will piss you off. The Patapons go crazy and mess up your beat.

Rhythm Games Rely on Variety – Patapon Lacks It
Another serious issue I have with Patapon is that the game lacks variety. There are basically 3 major commands in the game: March, Attack, and Defend. There are some other tweaks here and there, but for the most part you just cycle through three button sequences over and over again. Sure, the levels change, but here’s the game in a nutshell. Do the March until you come upon an enemy, do the Attack sequence until enemies are gone, March until another enemy, and repeat. In a boss encounter, you March until you’re within range, and alternate between Attack and Defend. The occasional Fever Mode will kick in, but it doesn’t do anything more than just increase your attack power. There are some minigames in Patapon, but they’re pretty simple. However, despite the simplicity of these minigames, they can frustrate as well. Again, the game doesn’t always provide you the proper tempo to match with your own rhythmic button pressing. After a while you just tire of the minigames.

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The minigames don’t hold your interest for too long.

Level Grinding in a Rhythm Game?
Patapon isn’t well balanced, and as a result you are forced to level grind to improve the strength of your Patapon. This is a huge design flaw, if you ask me. The action in Patapon should be a compliment to the rhythm foundation of the game. If you keep the beat, you should keep advancing. That is not the case. If you don’t spend time strengthening up your forces by replaying old levels repeatedly, you will not advance deep into the game no matter how perfectly you execute your button presses.

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Wanna beat the bosses? Get to grinding, son!

It’s Not All Bad
Patapon has a certain charm and visual style that is very, very, appealing. The game is priced right ($19.99), but it’s definitely another overhyped and overpraised title by the Sony swarm of faithful fanboys. There are much better PSP titles to dedicate your time to that aren’t getting the same amount of praise; and I would encourage everybody to look into those games. I know this post is coming late after the release of the game, but SOMEBODY had to stop the endless hype.

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Despite its frustrating aspects, the game looks amazingly cool.

October 2007 NPD Sales

NPD is like a monthly holiday for gaming geeks that can’t get enough of the console wars that have raged on for decades. This month Nintendo, once again, had a massive month, Guitar Hero III makes its debut, the 360 keeps rolling along, and the PS3 kind of limps along. As expected, Halo 3 still leads sales on the software front. Remember, next month will be interesting as it will include Black Friday, the PS3 price drop, the Xbox 360 Arcade bundle, and the Super Mario Galaxy effect. So, here are the numbers:

Hardware Results (rounded to the nearest 1,000):

  • Wii – 519,000
  • Nintendo DS – 458,000
  • Xbox 360 – 366,000
  • PSP – 286,000
  • PlayStation 2 – 184,000
  • PlayStation 3 – 121,000

Top 10 Software (ranked by number of units sold)

  1. 360 Halo 3 – 433,800
  2. 360 Guitar Hero III (w/ guitar) – 383,200
  3. WII Guitar Hero III (w/ guitar) – 286,300
  4. PS2 Guitar Hero III (w/ guitar) – 271,100
  5. DS Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourlgass – 262,800
  6. WII Wii Play – 239,700
  7. 360 The Orange Box – 238,400
  8. PS2 Guitar Hero III – 231,700
  9. PS2 FIFA Soccer 08 – 129,700
  10. DS Brain Age 2 – 116,900

For those interested, the PS3 version of GHIII moved 105,800 copies with Ratchet and Clank debuting with 74,500.

Bungie’s response to crappy Halo 3 bonus disc videos

For the folks that ran out and picked up the Legendary Edition of Halo 3 that haven’t popped in the bonus discs yet, you’re in for a big surprise. The supposedly remastered discs look like garbage, especially the Halo 1 clips. Despite advertising that the package would contain re-mastered cutscenes in hi-def, the disc provides the cutscenes at a degraded level of quality. Complaints started popping up on message boards and some gaming site editors starting prodding Bungie for a response.

Hilary Goldstein of IGN Xbox asked forum users, “Anyone get the Legendary Edition and watch the second disc? The promised re-mastered cut-scenes are 4:3 and look like garbage. Anyone else seeing this?” After a little while he returned with this post: “The entire second disc is 4:3. First disc (that comes with special edition) is 16:9. But even the halo 1 cutscenes look worse than the original, like they were recorded on someone’s VCR.” In a final post, Hilary offers up an explanation of sorts. He said, “Just got the official response. Yes it’s going to look like ass. That really was the message. Will post one of the god-awful cut-scenes tonight in case you were contemplating the Legendary Edition.”

At this point everybody found out that the discs weren’t mistakenly bad, but that’s how they were approved and sent out. So gamers were left confused. What did the extra $70 go toward besides the MC helmet? Well, over at the NeoGAF forums we got the Bungie response:

“The cutscenes were remastered, the pop-in reduced and they were output as as high resolution TIFFs one frame at a time to improve the quality over the originals.

They were not, contrary to popular internets remastered in “HD” and this was always advertised as a DVD disc, which obviously can’t play HD content anyway.

Apologies to folks feeling ripped off, but the false advertising claims are well, false.

Watch the remastered ones side by side with the originals to see how much they’ve been improved.

And hopefully folks can see past our old school graphics and listen to the commentary, which is the important part of that content anyway.”

What a load of crap. Even Xbox.com was advertising these things as HD. Quote: “ …including remastered, high-res versions of the Halo and Halo 2 cinematics;”

So what’s going to happen? Nothing. We got shafted. Sure, the helmet is cool, but the real reason I went with the Legendary was to get the bonus content. I like the idea of being able to run through the Halo storyline quickly and easily as a refresher, but I can honestly get just as good quality by firing up YouTube. So what’s the point? The game is great, so I can eventually forget all of this, but I hate being taken for $70 due to false advertising.

Thanks for the blatant F*** you response, Bungie. Feels good to get screwed…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Every year at this time the kids are hitting up JC Penny, Wal-Mart, and local malls to get their back to school shopping completed. As the kids, teens, and college goers storm the retail outlets to pick up new shoes, shirts, pants, and supplies, they pass by the store windows of game stores scattered in strategic locations. These windows are full of adverts for Madden (which usually hails the return of great games), sequels to the biggest franchises in gaming, and what is being touted as the next big thing in gaming.

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From now until the end of the year the release schedule is packed solid with AAA titles on each and every platform out there. It’s that time of year that each Saturday morning you have to make the touch choice: do I watch the early college football games before my team takes the field, or do I frag some baddies and delve deeper into my growing pile of games? It’s that time when your backlog replenishes itself and you scramble to finish off what remains from last year’s slew of releases. It’s that time when you justify dropping hundreds of dollars on game after game. So, what exactly do we have to look forward to this year? What’s going to drive Visa balances through to their limits?

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BioShock – Releasing tomorrow, BioShock is a revolutionary take on the FPS genre. Coming out for both the 360 and PC, BioShock provides amazing visuals, creepy motifs, gorgeous art, and action-packed gameplay that varies every time you spin the disc.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – The largest title to hit the Wii since Twilight Princess, Prime 3 is Retro’s first release on Nintendo’s landmark console. Adding a new control scheme to the legendary series is proving to fuel hype and anticipation for next week when the game launches.

Blue Dragon – Also hitting store shelves next week is the newest RPG to hit the 360. Blue Dragon is best described as one part Dragon Quest (gameplay) and one part Dragon Ball Z (art style). While not the most revolutionary title, Blue Dragon is helping to diversify the 360 lineup and show gamers that Microsoft is committed to bringing a well-rounded library to the console.

Warhawk – Incognito’s final game is going to be made available on both retail shelves on via download through Sony’s PlayStation Network. The game boasts huge multiplayer battles and a great range of weapons and vehicles. Warhawk is going to give the PS3 this year’s first big online hit.

Heavenly Sword – This stunning action title from Ninja Theory is a great showcase for the PS3’s power and versatility. The game is sure to be a hit with action fans that are craving a good beat ’em up experience.

Halo 3 – Not much needs to be said here. Halo 2 had the biggest first day ever in regards to revenue and Microsoft expects Halo 3 to surpass it. Either way, the game is going to be one of the most talked about games from the day it releases (late September) all the way through the holidays.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – Easily the most anticipated game on portables this year is Nintendo’s newest Zelda adventure. Phantom Hourglass is already raising eyebrows for its unique control scheme, stunning visuals, and depth of gameplay. It should be the perfect title to bring along during holiday travels.

Mass Effect – BioWare’s epic sci-fi action/RPG title features branching storylines, great graphics, and some of the most realistic AI interactions ever seen in a game. Ever since its first showing at E3 last year, Mass Effect has been on just about every 360 owner’s wish list.

Super Mario Galaxy – My personal favorite in the avalanche of holiday hits is none other than Super Mario Galaxy. Every screen, video, or bit of info just oozes with style and charm. If you can’t get excited for this game, you need to re-evaluate why you play games in the first place.

Rock Band – Threatening to talk away Guitar Hero’s title as king of the music genre is EA’s Rock Band. The game is playable by up to 4 people at one time (a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and lead singer). Also, EA is promising to support the game with weekly downloadable content.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl – This game will probably end up being the Wii’s biggest title of the year, and it’s no mystery as to why. The Smash Bros. series has been a fan favorite for years, and Brawl is riding one of the biggest hype waves a Nintendo game has seen in quite some time.

Honorable Mentions – Lair, Medal of Honor: Airborne, Eternal Sonata, Sonic Rush Adventure, Lost Odyssey, Beautiful Katamari, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, Virtua Fighter 5, Guitar Hero III, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn, Assassin’s Creed, Army of Two, Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

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I’m sure I missed a few titles, so feel free to let me know what else you might be looking for. Obviously it’s going to be a financial impossibility to buy all of these games, so getting picky is going to be a necessity. If a major drought should ever hit gaming, however, there’s enough here to revisit for countless hours of gaming.

Where’s the Metroid Prime 3 hype?

Metroid Prime 3 releases later this month (August 27th) and there is little to no hype pushing the title. Sure, there are other heavy hitters that came out or are coming out this month as well, but there’s no reason that a title as significant and incredible as Prime 3 should be flying so far under the radar. The original Metroid Prime, and its sequel, are two of the best games that have been developed by a Nintendo 1st or 2nd party, and Metroid Prime 3 is looking to take the series to an even higher level with better graphics, a deeper gameplay experience, larger worlds, and a more involved storyline.

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Metroid Prime 3 will wrap up the Prime story arc in the Metroid universe.

So why no hype? Why isn’t the game getting any sort of media blitz? I think Nintendo is making a big mistake by failing to properly advertise and promote Metroid Prime 3. They are taking for granted the existing Metroid fanbase and just assuming that they alone can make the game a sales success. In my opinion, this is pretty faulty. Sure, Wii consoles are flying off the shelves as fast as stores can stock them, but Metroid Prime 3 is the type of title that the Wii hasn’t seen much of. Prime 3 could help generate interest in the hardcore and casual markets that may not be won over by the new play styles of games like Wii Sports or Wii Play. These gamers need games like Metroid Prime 3 to justify their purchase of the Wii. These gamers need to know that Nintendo is comfortable releasing games of this scope on the Wii and that it won’t just be a one shot deal. It’s stuff like this that ultimately drove Silicon Knights and Factor 5 into the arms of Microsoft and Sony.

I still have hope that Prime 3 will see strong word of mouth support, but I’ll be surprised if it manages to push 1 million copies before the end of the year. I just would like to see Nintendo show a little faith in the project.

Bryan Intihar is a dirty liar, I’m a total sucker

Yeah, it happened again. Madden rolls around and I get excited because I’m going to play in online leagues with friends. Each year I approach the game with skepticism and usually Gamefly the title until our leagues play out. This year, however, good ol’ Bryan from 1up assured us that the game was stellar and a real improvement for the series. I should have known better, especially after getting burned on NCAA Football 08.

No matter how I adjust the sliders or how I adjust my play style, each and every game features no less than 8 or 9 turnovers. That’s not realistic, that’s stupid. The last game I played was a laugher. I picked the CPU off 9 times, but fumbled it away 5. This is typical in Madden 08, not exceptional. So why did this happen? Well, first of all EA is lazy. Instead of addressing the issue of players being able to easily complete sideline passes, they cranked up the awareness of defensive backs to a level that would make Miss Cleo jealous. As soon as you release the ball defensive backs react to the throw, even if they aren’t looking. Combine that with the fact that 90% of the time a DB touches the ball he picks it off and you get games where half of the throws result in turnovers.

So what do you do when you can’t pass? Well you try to run. It’s too bad that about 10% of running plays result in fumbles. This happens because EA buttered up the ball so that you mash the “protect” button when running into a tackle. They cheat the player into using the “feature” or they face big time punishment. There’s plenty more to whine about (special teams play is crap, same generic playbooks as always, crappy presentation), but I want to attack the real issue before this goes on much longer. Why can’t reviewers call EA out a bit more? Do they really have a noose around us all? Are we afraid of pissing of the casual gamer with a negative review of such a big game?

In my opinion, Madden won’t live up to its potential until EA does the following:

  • Make proper use of the license. Give us good presentation for a change. Look what VC did back in 2004 with NFL 2k5 and learn something from it.
  • Toss the generic crappy playbook system and give us something deeper along the lines of All-Pro Football (and other past VC football games).
  • Stop covering deep cuts with band-aids and fix the problems. Instead of cranking DB awareness and ability up to superhuman levels, FIX IT. This year they took a lazy way out.
  • Find a way to eliminate online lag. The kicking game is atrocious online even with a good connection.
  • GIVE US LEAGUE SUPPORT. Again, NFL 2k5 did this years ago and All-Pro Football is doing it now.
  • No more gimmicks. You know what I’m talking about here. Instead of working on the core of the game, EA loves to toss in some odd gimmick year to year; mostly to help in the promotion of the game.

Maybe it’s not fair to pin this all on Bryan Intihar. I guess I just needed a face to pin to my dartboard for a moment. Sure, he was the most vocal supporter in the media as he gushed about the game for the past month, but plenty of other reviewers are guilty of the same. For some reason they whine 80% of the time through their review only to say, “but the core is solid” before slapping a 9.0 score on the game. If you’re frustrated half the time, maybe the game doesn’t deserve that 9.0. Crazy thought, huh?

So I paid my $60 and I got suckered. At least it’s still pretty fun playing online, but the game is almost garbage offline. It’s probably my fault for getting my hopes up yet again.

BBC: Games need to be more realistic

Despite reading like an EA press release/advertisement, the BBC managed to put their opinion out there that games need to be “more realistic.” I’m all for realism in games, but there has to be a point where you purposely suspend that realism to some degree. Even the most “realistic” games must have fantastic elements, don’t they? Let’s take a few examples of what would happen if the hyper realism switch was flipped on some of your favorite games:

NCAA Football 2008

You drop back to pass and see your receiver break into the open field just as a linebacker comes charging through a gap in the line. Instead of trying to scramble you heave the ball…TOUCHDOWN! The whole team starts to celebrate except for your poor quarterback that’s rolling around with “a broken arm.” Good thing it was an exhibition game, huh? Well, if EA wanted the game to be truly realistic, the player would miss 3-5 weeks. They’d become unplayable in the game until sufficient time was given for the player to heal. It doesn’t matter that it was an exhibition game. If somebody breaks their arm, they can’t play. But it’s cool, it’s more realistic like that, right?

Splinter Cell

For a game that’s built around trial and error stealth action, I’m pretty glad that realism is suspended enough to allow you to have continues. If you want realism, the first time you die the game should halt the spinning of the disc, scratch it to crap and de-authorize any future copies of Splinter Cell (and its sequels) from ever being played on your console again. After all, Sam Fisher is dead in your world now.

Any racing game ever

You just slammed that wall? Race over.

So do we really need for games to be more realistic? Like, do we really need it? I think it’s cool when you see touches of realism here and there in games, but I think the focus still needs to be on fun and the suspension of realism. I don’t mind improved physics, more lifelike movements, and better lighting, but I feel that “realism” is highly overrated as an attribute to any game. I just want to have fun, and I don’t need it to feel like what I’m doing in the video game world could be believable in the real world.