Friday, January 30, 2009

Zombies ate my game time!

January is almost over. The Knight household got a small handful of games for Christmas, and I've nearly posted my reviews of all of them. The only ones left to go are Mass Effect (which I bought after Christmas with a gift card received then) and Forza 2 (which was more of a "spur of the moment" purchase; details to come later). The only thing keeping me from posting the reviews is that I like to feel that I've spent "significant time" with them, to make sure I have a good grasp on what the whole game is about. It used to be "completed the game", but then I slacked off to just "completed the main storyline", but this month I figured I needed to back off from even that or I'd never get anything posted.

The problem is, there's been one game that's been nearly monopolizing my game time for over two months now, and that's Left 4 Dead. When we get the kids to bed and I sit down in front of the Xbox for my "me time", it's what I want to play. I know I owe a lot of that to the Geezer Gamers community; because L4D is such a team-based game, and the number of Geezers nearly guarantees that I can find a team to play with, that actually communicates, acts like a team, and plays to have fun. Whether it's helping each other get achievements (I finally have all of them except for the "kill 53k zombies" one, which will just take time — at my current rate, I should get it by April), venturing into matchmaking to take on the timmies, or just playing the game for the sake of playing, I have been loving this game.

It does, unfortunately, mean that other games are getting completely neglected. WALL·E, for instance, only took me two days to finish the main storyline. However, those two days were over a month apart. My friend Solstice has gifted me some Forza cars that I still have yet to see, simply because I haven't even logged on with that game in 2½ weeks. And in Mass Effect, my Commander Shepard is only just now about to embark on his quest as a Spectre, having completed the preliminary "get to know the game" bits.

The thing is, I do want to play other games. When I get an invite to play Halo, I want to accept. But when I'm deciding between suiting up in a metric tonne of UNSC armor, and grabbing a health pack and some ammo and running in a tight squad with three companions for our survival, I pick the zombies every time. Why? Because I know I'll enjoy it. Win or lose, I know I'll actually play and have a good, fun, and exciting time. What more could anyone ask for?

Hmm, maybe more hours in the day that I could devote to gaming.…

Monday, January 26, 2009


Based on the movie is the game WALL·E. Being a typical videogame-of-a-movie, the game more or less follows the plot of the movie. You start off as the title character, doing some simple cleanup tasks on Earth all by himself. Much the same way the scenes in the movie introduce you to the character, the scenes in the game introduce you to the basic controls and mechanics.

The second scene brings in EVE, which instead of platforming and puzzle-solving instead introduces flight and speed. It can be a little frustrating, as the controls are very loose. There are also time trials that can be very frustrating, as the goals aren't very explicit. One that comes to mind is a trip through a boat. You have to take three passes, and there is one section of the boat where you choose which of the three paths you are going to take. You can only take each path once. Unfortunately, it is not clear that this is what you must do, and when you try to take the same path a second time, you are forced to another path in a move that often crashes you into a wall and doesn't indicate that you have to pick a different choice. This killed me more than once until I guessed the developers' intent.

The third scene gets more interesting, as you get to play as WALL·E and EVE together. It's back to a platforming dynamic, but with an added dimension of flight and the ability to shoot with EVE's cannon.

The game continues to follow the story, where you play as WALL·E, EVE, or both, depending on how the story goes. Your typical videogame elements have been added, such as tokens, collectibles (including, for some odd reason, Toy Story movie characters), and health units (solar recharge stations).

One annoying feature is that, to play multiplayer, one must first unlock the multiplayer stage by collecting all the tokens in the associated level in single player first. The tokens aren't entirely hidden, but it's not trivial to get 100% in a level. I'm not a fan of games that require unlocking multiplayer anyway. Multiplayer should be something that you can just jump into with your friends and family without having to wait for a single player to play through the game.

My kids seemed to enjoy this game well enough for being able to play through the story (and my two-year-old, who was saying the title character's name since the day he first saw it in the "Coming Soon" section of another Pixar DVD, loved watching), but once they finished the main storyline, they really haven't had a lot of interest in going back and playing the game again.

It's a fairly typical movie-to-video-game adaptation. Graphics aren't bad, but unimpressive (you certainly won't confuse it with the movie itself), gameplay is pretty straightforward, but not a lot of replay value.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge is an interesting game. It's a first-person runner, where the primary gameplay involves running across rooftops performing feats of acrobatics to get from point A to point B, avoiding the gun-wielding authorities. The demo really engaged me, so I decided to pick this one up (and my wife made me wait for Christmas to open it).

One impression you get in the demo is that you're encouraged to run rather than fight, finding a way around enemies rather than through them. Unfortunately, as I'm finding out in later levels, the opposite is tending to be true. I'm coming across more and more levels where there are more people that I have no choice but to fight, as attempting to run through will get you gunned down in three steps or less. And with no gun of your own, this is nearly impossible. (You can take an enemy's gun and use it, but the achievement for not doing this even once in a campaign suggests an encouragement not to do so.) "Take them one at a time" is easier said than done when five come at you all at once.

The game can be frustrating at times. It's very much based on flow and momentum. If you know exactly where you're going and the path you're taking to get there, it can be very satisfying to string together a sequence of runs, jumps, tumbles, and slides that just flows from point A to B. However, finding the right sequence or even the right place to go is an exercise in trial and error, not to mention patience. Sometimes the controls don't respond exactly how you'd expect, either, where you'd expect a wall-climb ends up with your character lying flat on her back with the wind knocked out of her (if you're lucky).

Despite that, it still is a very interesting game. It's so unlike anything I've ever played, and there's a definite thrill to being able to run across rooftops and leap across buildings. Although it can be frustrating, once you do find the magic path that flows across the map, the rush when you do it is quite a payoff.

There is some DLC that is being released for it that reduces the game to its basic, fun play, where you just run through time trials through some abstract aerial tracks. It is something I look forward to spending some points on, when I get back to playing it.

I'm glad EA decided to take a chance on this unique game. Unfortunately, it may be something we see less of, with the economy being what it is, there have already been murmurings that a game that's as different as this is from the mainstream is unlikely to get recognition again. :( I know my wallet may regret spending full price on this, but I'm certainly glad I threw in my support. It's a good game.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

As I alluded to in the Banjo Kazooie review, I preordered this game for the kids when they announced that preorders would be rewarded with the original Banjo Kazooie game. Having never played a Banjo Kazooie game, I didn't know what to expect.

My kids weren't too impressed with the Banjo Kazooie arcade title (insert rant about kids these days not appreciating their roots here), so as Christmas approached, I started to worry if they would have any fun with Nuts & Bolts.

The games are very different. Although they do share some common themes (collecting "jiggies" and notes), the mechanics are extremely different. Instead of platforming, the bulk of the game is played in vehicles. You start the game (after an introduction sequence that re-introduces the characters, unfortunately picking up the story after Banjo Tooie which I also haven't played) in "Showdown Town" with a trolley that is little more than a tray on wheels. You drive this tray around town, finding boxes that contain vehicle parts and shuttling them back to the garage.

You unlock worlds as doorways out of Showdown Town, and in these worlds are other challenges that must be completed with vehicles. In some cases, the vehicle will be predefined; whereas in others, you have the option of building your own (or choosing from a number of predefined) vehicle for the task, whether that task is racing, escort, battle, defense, or other miscellaneous tasks. You are then awarded notes (the game's currency) and/or jiggies based on how quickly you complete the task, or how many goals are accomplished, or how much/little damage is inflicted, etc. (A nice feature is that, upon completing a challenge, you can immediately see the leaderboard and see how you did compared to your friends. Unfortunately, the last night I tried this, attempting to apply the "friends" filter locked up the Xbox, every time. Although I used it a lot before that night, I've been scared to use it since, for fear of Something Bad Happening.) Improving your score may come from finding a better path, or it may come from building a better vehicle.

Building a vehicle is remarkably simple. In Chromehounds, I often found it very difficult to build a mech that had the correct balance of attack and defense, maintained proper weight-to-power ratios, and a whole host of parameters I couldn't even begin to understand, let alone try to name off the top of my head. Nuts & Bolts makes building a vehicle remarkably simple. Parts can almost be added anywhere on the vehicle. Certainly, if you build one too tall, it will be prone to tipping, and if you build too wide or have pieces sticking out, stuff is likely to break off the sides in narrow tunnels or making tight turns. But if you keep things reasonably balanced, the vehicle will work. If you have a pair of wings on it, it will fly; and even an unbalanced plane won't be terribly difficult to control in the air. If your vehicle looks like a boat and has a couple flotation devices on it, it'll make a decent boat.

It's so simple, both my 8- and 6-year-old boys can build vehicles and race them around the test track, and have a lot of fun doing it.

In fact, that's what they do, most of the time. My 8-year-old will spend more time in the other worlds accomplishing tasks than his younger brother, but both boys will spend considerable time in the garage putting together mammoth vehicles that would crush a Hum-Vee. And despite their size and unwieldy shapes, they will fly, drive, or float just fine.

The game itself is full of self-referential humor. There are nods to other games in the series (Banjoland appears to be a museum based on the Banjo Kazooie game; there are other signposts that reference events in Banjo Tooie that I unfortunately won't recognize until that game hits the Marketplace) as well as other games produced by Rare (a level that takes place inside a "next-next-gen" video game system sees you walking over spinning CDs of Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Viva Piñata — "The Best Game That No One Played" it says on the CD — and one jinjo has Banjo retrieving a scary book that happens to be the WotNot book from Kameo). While I'm sure there are a lot of references I'm missing (especially having only played Banjo Kazooie, Kameo, and the Viva Piñata games personally), I still find it highly amusing.

I thought that maybe Banjo Kazooie would be required to play this game. After spending time with it, I feel that it does help get an appreciation for the series as a whole, and the self-referential humor in particular, but the game mechanics are so different that from strictly a gameplay perspective, it's not necessary.

My son is much farther in this game than I am (since most of my time is spent killing zombies these days), and he's starting to find there are some challenges that are a little frustrating for him; but he is still spending a lot of time with this game. Perhaps it's because he spends more time building and testing new vehicles than actually playing the storyline. But that's ok. He's having a lot of fun with it, and that's what matters.

There is a multiplayer option. Unfortunately, I haven't yet experienced this, as most of the Geezer Gamer family is either shooting zombies (yay) or locusts (boo). Hopefully we'll get around to trying this. Someday. :)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hi, can I have your password please?

I got a Live message from one of my friends last night asking me to visit so I can claim my social networking account that they had supposedly set up for me. It encouraged me to do this "quickly", before someone else claimed my name.

I decided to check it out. As a quick trip to Google will show, my gamertag isn't the most unique word on the net, so there was some incentive to checking it out before someone tried claiming my name. When I visited the site, it redirected me to a page on that asked me to confirm my ownership of the gamertag by entering my Live ID and password in a simple web form.

Erm, no.

The only form that gets that information is one that submits to

Tonight, I noticed that I got four more messages from other friends that all say the same exact thing. It sounds like this phishing scam is getting a few bites.

I hope for the sake of my friends that this site is doing exactly what it's claiming — verifying ownership of the gamertag — and nothing more. But I've sent my friends a message (and am posting this on my blog as a "public service") encouraging them to change their Live account password as soon as possible, just in case. This can be done by logging on to

If stores that information, they could use it to take control of the gamertag, plus any and all associated Hotmail, Messenger, or other Live service accounts. And of course if there are any credit cards associated with that ID (such as would happen if you buy Points or renew a Live or Zune Pass subscription online), then the new owner could use that information to make more purchases.

It's already apparent that they use your login information to access your friends list and send out messages on your behalf to your friends to come and sign up. And if the apology messages from my friends are any indication, this happens without the explicit knowledge or authorization of the account holder.

I tried connecting to today to get more details for this blog post, but the entire site appears to be down. It certainly seems more suspicious.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lego Batman

Bought for my Lego game-loving son for Christmas, we got the newest game in the franchise, Lego Batman.

It's essentially the same basic game as the other Lego games — you play as a pair of Lego mini-figs (the second being computer-controlled by default or by a second player, who can jump in and out at any time; and you can swap players at just about any time as well). You walk through levels smashing up scenery and collecting the Lego studs from them, which fill up a stud meter for the level. You also build things from stacks of pieces around the level, find minikits, fight enemies and bosses, ride vehicles, etc. Completing a level unlocks it for "Free Play" mode, where you can play through with the ability to switch to any unlocked character on the fly, a requirement for collecting some minikits that cannot be reached by any one character's abilities on its own.

This time, of course, you play as the Dynamic Duo, and the bosses you fight against are from the history of the Batman franchise. At least, I assume so. I have to admit, I'm not that well-versed in Batman lore. Fortunately, at the start of each stage, the game gives a little background on the boss character you're going to face — their real name, their alias, and a very brief history. Very nice for those of us who never knew there was a "Killer Croc" or "Man-Bat" character.

Whereas other Lego games gave your heroes additional abilities through new characters, in Lego Batman you play the hero missions exclusively as Batman and Robin. In order to give them new abilities, there are suit upgrade pads that you can build in the level. Switching Batman into his "sonic suit", for instance, gives him a sonic gun that can shatter glass. The levels are of course designed to give you just the right suit to get through the main story of the level, but not necessarily the bonuses (like minikits), which require coming back in Free Play mode.

Game play is much more similar to the original Lego Star Wars series than Lego Indiana Jones, in that it is much more action-oriented than puzzle-solving. You'll find yourself doing a lot less carrying items back and forth and a lot more just moving forward, running and pounding (until you start "unlocking" some of the minikits, which do take more thought).

You play through three stories as Batman and Robin, with each story taking one super villain (Joker, Riddler, and Penguin) and each chapter in the story taking a "lesser" villain (Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Clayface) helping him out. The gimmick this time around is, once you play through the story as the heroes, you can then play through the same story as the villains. The chapters are very different, so it's not like playing the same story twice.

The biggest difference in this game from the others is that it doesn't spoof any specific movie. Unfortunately, that does take something away from the classic humor quality. Instead of spoofing memorable scenes, the humor tends to be rather generic. It starts out fun, but eventually the same old "Batman's being all stoic and serious while Robin's being a goofy kid" jokes repeated in every cutscene start to get a little old.

Although the game is fairly easy to pick up and play, new players and even veterans might find it a bit confusing, as the game is not exactly forthcoming with how some of the mechanics work. I try to play a game not taking things for granted, waiting to see what it tells me to do rather than assuming I know how to play. Part of this is trying to make sure I learn what the game wants to teach me, part is so I can be a better reviewer, but mostly it comes from playing games with people who don't play as many games as I do. I've found if I try to share a game I like with someone, and that person doesn't have the same passion for games and just "knows" certain gaming conventions like the back of their hand, then my lack of explanation of things I take for granted is going to make their experience that much worse.

Similarly, it seems that Lego Batman takes for granted that you know what you're doing in a Lego game. There are some helpful tips about using grappling hooks and batarangs — things specific to this game — but if I waited around for the game to tell me how to build a pile of jumping Lego pieces, I'd be waiting a long time. Vehicle modes were worse. Even though it did actually give basic instructions like how to use the tow cable, it never told you where you were supposed to tow the enemy vehicles once you got them. While it's true that some goals have to be discovered, typically the game gives you some clue as to what the goal is, such as with a "mini-cutscene" that shows the villain taunting you from the target area with the camera focused conspicuously on a weapon target point. The vehicle levels didn't give that kind of clue. It took way too long for my son and I to figure out where to tow the enemy cars, or where the Batwing picked up its torpedoes and how to replenish them, or where the Batcopter could get bombs that it could tow around; and we're seasoned veterans of the Lego franchise.

The Batcave computer is a bit of an enigma as well. I think I figured out that red bricks unlock the "Suit Upgrades" section, as I've found two of them and I have two of those available to buy. But there are other bonuses that are locked and don't appear to have any indication as to what has locked them. I found two bonuses that got unlocked, and I'm not sure why, or even what those bonuses do.

I think this game makes a decent continuation of the Lego franchise. I definitely couldn't recommend it as an introduction to the series, as it takes so much previous Lego game knowledge for granted. But all in all, it is a pretty good Lego game.