April 23, 2014

Community Game Night: Red Faction: Guerrilla

Game Night

Polish your hammers and fuel up your jetpacks: we want to play Red Faction: Guerrilla with you!

Join the Video Game Hangover crew for our next Community Game Night.

WHAT: Red Faction: Guerrilla on the PS3
WHEN: Saturday, April 26 @ 9:30pm ET
HOW: Express your interest below and add us to your SEN friends list.

Randy -randy_wrecked
D.J. – metaly
Paul – dasflikko
Matt – sweetsweettrash

Red Faction: Guerrilla was one of the first games that brought the VGH team together over a shared obsession. We hope you’ll join us in revisiting this fast-paced, frantic shooter this Saturday night.

January 29, 2014

Community Game Night: Grand Theft Auto V

Game Night

Crank up the Love Fist and dress in your finest Ponsonby’s swag: we’re playing Grand Theft Auto V this week!

Join the Video Game Hangover team for our first Community Game Night of the year.

WHAT: Grand Theft Auto V on PS3
WHEN: Friday, January 31 @ 9:30pm ET
HOW: Express your interest in the comment section below and share your PSN name.

Be sure to add us and others to your Friends list to help get the game started in a timely fashion.

Randy: randy_wrecked
Matt: SweetSweetTrash
D.J.: metaly
Paul: Dasflikko

See you on Friday!

January 15, 2014

Randy’s Top 10 Games of 2013

If there’s a common thread that runs through my favorite games of 2013, it’s that the traditional “console gaming” experience just didn’t cut it for me in 2013: a full half of my list is made up of portable games and two of the others are, at this time, available only on a PC. There’s only one console exclusive, no next-gen games, and not a single Xbox or Wii U game to be found. Based on this, I’m left to conclude that my favorite releases of 2014 will only be playable on a Texas Instruments graphing calculator or, God forbid, the OUYA.

Without further ado, here’s my list:

10GH10. Gone Home
My heart swells every time I think back upon my time with Gone Home: with zero on-screen characters, developers The Fullbright Company somehow managed to create an exploration-based game about music, family, youth, and perhaps most surprisingly, love. It all worked, too, in a way that these themes almost never work in video games. I was moved by how real the Greenbriar family felt to me as I wandered around their home; in a lot of ways, they reminded me of my family. Gone Home is, to me, an accomplishment simply because of how rare and intimate that kind of experience still is in gaming.
January 14, 2013

Randy’s Top 10 Games of 2012

10. Deadlight
The folks at Xbox Live usually horde some of their best downloadable titles for their Summer of Arcade campaign. The headliner of 2012’s line-up for me was easily Deadlight, a 2D puzzle-platformer from Spanish developer Tequilaworks. Combining a visual style heavily influenced by LIMBO and gameplay elements reminiscent of Shadow Complex, you play as a survivor of the zombie apocalypse trying to navigate your way through the decimated remains of Seattle. Filled with challenging environmental puzzles and intense “run or die” moments, Deadlight brought a fresh perspective to the zombie survival genre.


9. Journey
What can be said about Journey that hasn’t been said already? It’s a game but it’s not. It features multiplayer but you can’t play it with your friends. It’s surprisingly moving, occasionally frightening, and very, very strange. Most importantly, Journey is an experiment in gaming that succeeds primarily because of the fearlessness of developer thatgamecompany.


8. Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
The jury’s still out on Sony’s Playstation Vita but most owners agree that its gaming line-up was a bit slight in early 2012. Mutant Blobs Attack was an early Vita release but it remains one of the most fun and original experiences on the system. You play as a one-eyed blob who rolls along absorbing pieces of the environment and growing in size until, eventually, terrorizing the populace and attracting the attention of the military. It’s one of the most laugh-out-loud funny games of the year, filled with 1950’s B-movie tropes and a roster of evolving powers that allow your blob to dominate Earth.

May 8, 2012

Play More Games: My God, It’s Full of Stars!

2007’s Warhawk was one of the first PS3 multiplayer games that I remember friends talking excitedly about. While I tragically missed out on the game’s heyday, I had enough time with it to develop an appreciation for Incognito Entertainment’s melange of grand scale land-and-air battles with third-person twitch-shooter mechanics. Plus: it had jetpacks! As we’ve established on a recent episode of the podcast, those things go a long way with us here at VGH.

Starhawk, out today for the PS3, is the spiritual successor to Warhawk. The developer has changed to LightBox Interactive (but includes members of the Incognito team) and the game now occupies a Wild West-tinged sci-fi world. The most intriguing and game-changing addition is probably the unique “Build and Battle” system, which allows players to call in supply drops of defensive walls and turrets, vehicles, weapons, and even giant mechs on the fly.

My time with the game’s beta earlier this year was a blast and I was impressed with the high level of polish already on display. I’m easily turned off by run-and-gun multiplayer modes but working with my friends to assemble defenses in massive 32-player matches immediately clicked with me. Looking for an advantage in a Capture the Flag match and realizing that I can call in a tank drop, file the members of my team into it, and then barrel into the enemy compound made the game feel fresh and thoroughly unpredictable.

If you’ll be playing Starhawk this week, be sure to keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the guy in the jetpack.

Also out this week:
Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition (XBLA)
Datura (PSN)
Nexuiz (PC)

Two quick notes:

If you’re interested in Nexuiz, be sure to check out our review of the Xbox 360 version of the game from way back in February.

I strongly considered writing this entire article about Starhawk, the noted eco-feminist writer and Paganism advocate, but I clearly decided to go another way with it. You’re welcome.

May 4, 2012

Weekend Hangover: Hispanic Superheroes Edition

With Star Wars Day, The Avengers movie, Cinco de Mayo, Free Comic Book Day and a superhero-themed episode of the Video Game Hangover podcast all intersecting this weekend, we suspect gamers and fanboys/girls around the world have no shortage of entertainment options to pass their time.

As if the thought of Scarlett Johannson in a skintight leather bodysuit weren’t enough, the cast and crew here at VGH have found some other worthwhile pursuits for the next three days:

Randy Dickinson (@randy_wrecked): Saturday is Cinco de Mayo! Who’s your favorite Hispanic superhero? Batmanuel is the only one I can think of. If you don’t know who that is, you should definitely add the live-action version of The Tick to your Netflix streaming queue for this weekend.

When I’m not drinking Sangria and gorging myself on tofu tacos this weekend, I’ll most likely try to wrap up Catherine and spend some more time with The Witcher 2. Starhawk is out on Tuesday so I need to clear my gaming slate by then.


March 23, 2012

Weekend Hangover: Carpal Tunnel Edition

It seems that Nintendo finally figured out that Amazon doesn’t deliver on Sundays because they’ve released Kid Icarus: Uprising today.  Reviews have been trickling out all week long and they’re all over the place: Destructoid called it “equal parts tremendous and terrible” and Joystiq called it “an excellent game”.

While the critics can’t seem to agree on the quality of the game, one thing that nearly every review cites is the painful hand contortions that are required to actually play it. Perhaps a red flag should have gone up at Nintendo HQ when someone suggested including a plastic stand for the 3DS so gamers wouldn’t be doomed to a lifetime of wrist pain?

Regardless, after a 20-year absence, Pit, Medusa and the Eggplant Wizard are back this weekend. At least 2 members of the VGH team have expressed interest in the game. Will it be worth the pain?

One final note: under no circumstances should you ever do a Google Image Search for “carpal tunnel syndrome surgery”. I may not sleep tonight.

What’s everyone playing this weekend?

Randy Dickinson (@randy_wrecked):
I recently downloaded my freebie copy of Super Stardust Delta on the Vita and I’m itching to play more. It’s gorgeous, it’s devilishly chaotic, and the touch controls feel unobtrusive and natural.

I’ve also got at least 10 games of Hustle Kings and Draw Something running at any given time. Don’t judge me.

D.J. Ross (@metaly):
To help ensure I don’t get to Mass Effect 3 this century, I was thinking of picking up the new Kid Icarus: Uprising. Is this a good plan? You tell me.

Paul Sandhu (@spaulsandhu):
I hate Mass Effect 3! Am I doing it right? Gonna continue my second playthrough a bit. Rarrrr how dare Bioware do this to me rarrrr.

Matt Kernan (@mkernan):
I’m taking a road trip down south for a wedding this weekend, so I’ve loaded up my Vita with all the demos that I haven’t gotten around to trying yet. I might even finally start up Uncharted: Golden Abyss. I contemplated packing up the PS3 and hoping the hotel TV had an open HDMI port, but Mrs. Kernan vetoed me. I left it on at home though, just so I could prove that Remote Play works.

March 13, 2012

Play More Games: Just Add Zombies!

Someone decided it would be a good idea to add zombies to Sega’s Yakuza series of action-adventure games.


February 21, 2012

Play More Games: Living in Syndication

Having never played the original 1993 real-time strategy incarnation of Syndicate, I didn’t quite understand what all the hubbub was about when Swedish developers Starbreeze announced that they would be rebooting the series in 2012 as a first-person shooter. The trailers that I saw for the new game showed a fast-paced, sci-fi themed, cover-based shooter in which an augmented agent infiltrates competing organizations in a battle for corporate supremacy. While I saw hints of Deus Ex: Human Revolution on display, Syndicate loyalists saw…not Syndicate.

Regardless of where you stand on that debate, the freshly realized version of Syndicate (PS3, 360, PC) is here today and, while it has abandoned its isometric roots, it seems to be garnering some positive notices (including a surprising 5-star review from the frequently cantankerous Jeff Gerstmann at Giant Bomb). The four of us here at VGH Industries posted our playthrough of the multiplayer co-op demo a few weeks back and found it to be inspired and fun.

A game whose demo failed to resonate with the team, Asura’s Wrath (PS3, 360), is also out this week. This bizarro amalgam of elements from Dragon Ball Z, God of War and, strangely enough, Heavy Rain left us scratching our heads. Check out Episode 38 of the podcast for our color commentary on the title.


February 15, 2012

Play More Games: Mi Vida en Vita

Dozens of Japanese gamers can’t be wrong.

While it didn’t exactly ignite a firestorm of sales upon release in Japan last December, Sony’s “next generation portable” is finally available in the States this week in the form of a $350 First Edition Bundle. The PlayStation Vita promises a closer-to-console experience in a handheld device with the graphical acuity, social hooks and obscenely expensive accessories that modern gamers (hopefully, for Sony’s sake) crave.

The line-up of launch games is widely blamed for the Vita’s cool reception in Japan (i.e., “no Monster Hunter”) but the titles hitting store shelves this week certainly seem more in tune with the sensibilities of American gamers. As something of a Nathan Drake devotee, I’m curious to see how Uncharted: Golden Abyss survives the move to the Vita’s smaller screen — as well as the move to a new developer. The downloadable oddity Escape Plan has also piqued my interest with its exaggerated violence, monochrome visuals and controller-free play.

Can the PlayStation Vita peacefully co-exist with a world of smartphones and tablets? Only time will tell. Expect much sideline commentary from the gaming blogs over the next couple of weeks as the death of portable gaming is greatly exaggerated. Here at Video Game Hangover, we’re just happy to have new games to play.


February 8, 2012

Play More Games: Are You Afraid of the Darkness?

It’s been almost five years since the release of the The Darkness, the original game based on Top Cow’s long-running series of comic books about a young, demonically-charged Mafia hitman. At the time of the its release, only two Halo titles had thus far seen the light of day and the Call of Duty games all took place during World War II. In gaming, a lot can happen in five years.

Undaunted, The Darkness II is out for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC this week. The game has a new developer (Canada’s Digital Extremes is now at the helm) and Jackie Estacado, the hitman from the first game, is now the head of the crime family. You still take down baddies with something called “quad-wielding”, the series’ unique combination of two-handed shooting along with control of two vicious, demonic tentacles.  It’s fast-paced, gory, amusingly self-aware and the gameplay never gets old — traits that are just as entertaining now as they were five years ago.

Didn’t play the first game? The Darkness II kicks off with a brief “previously on” segment that gets you caught up on events.  You can also download the demo for a bloody little taste of what to expect.

Speaking of demos, the fine folks over at Laughing Jackal Ltd. have finally released one for Cubixx HD, their addictive puzzler for the PS3.  D.J. really enjoyed the game when he reviewed it last year and this is a great opportunity for more folks to finally check out one of the PSN’s hidden gems.

D.J. on Capcom’s Resident Evil: Revelations:
As we briefly discussed in a recent episode, Resident Evil: Revelations (or however it’s spelled) wasn’t even on my radar before the demo hit the 3DS eShop. Despite being a professed RE4 diehard, Resident Evil 5‘s all-out action and co-op emphasis made me question the path the series seemed to be taking, so Revelations‘ isolated, pre-RE4 survival-horror feel caught me completely off-guard. (Sort of like a Licker dropping from the ceiling.) It’s now definitely piqued my interest. I’d definitely like to play it before Resident Evil 6 arrives this fall… maybe even with that goofy circle pad attachment.

Paul on Big Huge Games’ Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning:
So I decided against being financially responsible and just up and ordered Kingdoms of Amalur for release day. If you listened to my impressions of the game on VGH #38 you’ll remember that I actually fancied the demo quite a bit and probably would have enjoyed it even more if it weren’t for some random glitches. Early word surrounding the game has been really positive and I needed something to kill time until Mass Effect 3 hits next month. Based on what I’ve read, Amalur sounds like it’ll scratch that RPG itch I have (that never seems to go away) and actually sounds like it has some really compelling combat mechanics backing up the excellent narrative and character customization system.

I’m seriously hoping that Amalur is the first title of the year that surprises me with its high quality as games that fall into that category are always a welcome treat! The game came out of left field for me, and I am really looking forward to sinking some serious time with it this week. Look for my impressions of Kingdoms of Amalur next week on VGH #41!

Matt on Klei Entertainment’s Shank 2:
The follow-up to 2010’s bloody, 2D side-scrolling brawler makes it’s debut this week, hitting PSN and PC today, while the Xbox Live Arcade version arrives tomorrow. I enjoyed the original quite a bit, with it’s simple-yet-satisfying combat, gorgeous artwork, and its Kill Bill-esque style. Though I completed the game, I never did get around to trying out the 2-player co-op, as it was local-only and my opportunities for couch co-op are few and far between these days. Shank 2 looks to offer a more refined second helping of what I found so enjoyable in the first one but also adds a new co-op survival mode (which support online play, thankfully). Keep an eye out for my impressions in the next week or so.

Also out this week:
Jak and Daxter Collection (PS3)
Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition (PS3, 360, PC)
Gotham City Impostors (PSN, XBLA, PC)
The Simpsons Arcade Game (PSN, XBLA)

January 6, 2012

Randy’s Top 14 Games of 2011

Why 14? There were just so many games that I enjoyed in 2011 that the standard 10-item list couldn’t contain them all.

14. Gears of War 3
I like the Gears series in a way that surprises even me sometimes. This installment brings some of the best new elements to Delta Squad’s seemingly never-ending war against the Locust, including refined shooting and cover systems, smarter enemies and a longer, more complex story line. It’s easy to dismiss Gears of War for simply providing more meat for the meatheads (which it definitely does), but I’ve always felt that there’s way more going on here: Gears 3 has a sense of finality and depth that’s hard to find in most games, let alone one about hulking soldiers mowing down hordes of alien foes.

13. L.A. Noire
We certainly did our fair share of complaining about L.A. Noire here at Video Game Hangover but it still stands out as one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year. The investigations and characters at the heart of the game are utterly unique, as is its 1940s Hollywood setting. Try to overlook the frustrating interrogations, strangely empty game world, or oddly-anticlimactic pacing and you’ll find something truly uncommon being attempted here. I can only hope that the inevitable L.A. Noire 2 addresses these foibles and delivers the game that this aspired to be.

December 9, 2011

All I Want for Xmas: Randy’s List

As promised on VGH33, here is my expanded list of gift ideas for the “obsessive gamers and pop-culture geeks” on your shopping list.  Each is Linked to a site where you can find out more about the items and, in most cases, even buy them.

5. Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of Making the Film ($21)
This hardbound-and-slipcovered book traces the original Alien movie from concept to pop-culture phenomenon.  There’s a ton of never-before-seen material inside, including Ridley Scott’s storyboards, H.R. Giger’s alien concept art, and Polaroids taken on the set.  Nearly every sci-fi/horror hybrid over the last 30 years has borrowed elements from Alien; this gorgeous (and surprisingly cheap book) promises to show where it all began.

4. PlayStation Wireless Stereo Headset ($99)
Earlier this year, Sony introduced it’s own entry into the high-end gaming headset market and it’s been earning positive reviews ever since.  It syncs up easily with your PS3 and provides 10+ hours of battery life with Dolby 7.1-quality sound.  It includes a built in mic for multiplayer gaming but is also a great buy for folks who like to watch noisy action movies on Blu-ray.

3. Atari Arcade iPad Controller ($60 plus the cost of an iPad)
Atari’s Greatest Hits app ($10)
This is, essentially, a glorified dock for your iPad.  The reason I included it here, though, is because it’s got a joystick and 4 clicky arcade buttons built in.  Add the Atari’s Greatest Hits app and you’ve got access to 100 classic video games like Missile Command, Asteroids, Centipede, Tempest, etc.  The downside?  The controller only works with this one app, at least for now.  If you’re shopping for a retro-gaming connoisseur, though, (and they already have an iPad) this would make an awesome gift.

2. CD Box Sets:
U2’s “Achtung Baby” Uber Edition ($440)
Smashing Pumpkins’ “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” ($25 each)
The Smiths’ “Complete” ($65)
Music is probably one of the only things in the world that I obsess over as much as gaming, which makes these new box sets from three of my favorite 80’s and 90’s band must-haves.  U2’s set is ridiculous: it includes 6 CDs, 4 DVDs, 2 LPs, 5 7-inch singles, and a reproduction of Bono’s famous “Fly” sunglasses.  The Pumpkins’ sets are more modestly priced and includes additional discs of outtakes, demos, and even some re-recorded B-sides.  The Smiths’ set doesn’t provide much that’s new to hardcore fans but the packaging is brilliant: each album is reproduced on vinyl-style slipcovers with original artwork.  Put it in your ears!

1. Nook Tablet ($250)
Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline ($12)
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter”  by Tom Bissell ($12)
All Your Base are Belong to Us: How Fifty Years of Video Games Conquered Pop Culture”  by Harold Goldberg ($12)
Some very cool new books about gaming culture have come out this year and these three are definitely among the most interesting and creative.  To take it one step further, I’d recommend reading them on Barnes and Noble’s new Nook Tablet, their rival to Amazon’s Kindle Fire and, in my experience, the superior product.  The new Nook features a gorgeous 7″ HD screen, a super-fast dual-core processor, as well as Pandora, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and B&N’s massive e-book library.  Gamers will also appreciate access to games via the Android Market.  Plus, it’s a really sexy little device!

Stay tuned throughout next week for gift ideas from everyone on the Video Game Hangover Team.  Happy Holidays!

November 11, 2011

Preview: Where is my Heart?

Pixies are a rock band, Alien is a horror movie, and Braid is just a puzzle-platformer.

While all of those statements are technically accurate, true pop-culture connoisseurs know that what these three examples do is utterly unique within their respective genres.  The same is true of Where is my Heart?, a new game from Danish indie developer Die Gute Fabrik.


October 26, 2011

RAGE Review: Still Just a Rat in a Cage

My relationship with first-person shooters has been a somewhat tumultuous one.

If pressed to come up with a list of my favorite video games of all time, titles like Quake, Perfect Dark and Half-Life 2 would probably be on it.  I’m one of those weird people who actually buys the Halo and Call of Duty games so I can play through the campaigns.

Over the last year or so, my taste for the genre has soured, though.  Chalk it up to evolving interests or a lack of developer innovation but my recent attempts to play Crysis 2, Killzone 3 and Call of Duty: Black Ops were aborted after only a few hours.  It was with a fair amount of trepidation then that I approached RAGE, the first new game from id Software (makers of the aforementioned Quake) in almost 7 years.  Would this long-in-development shooter be another victim of my changing tastes?  Or could id, a developer who more or less invented the modern FPS, successfully renew my love for the genre?


September 20, 2011

Play More Games: In Defense of Gears

blatant cross-promotion

Gun-toting soldiers kill aliens on a far-off planet. These words could be used to describe nearly every triple-A best-seller on the Xbox 360 in the last 6 years.

Gears of War 3 is my great gaming guilty pleasure. I’m well aware of how easy it is to dismiss Gears for lacking in creativity and for catering to the least-intellectual portion of the gaming public. I believe that Gears is a genre in itself, though. The third-person, cover-based shooter? Gears pretty much invented that. Co-op campaigns? Gears has had ’em all along and continues to do it better than just about any competitor. The now-obligatory Horde Mode? Gears did it first. If you take any of the staples of modern shooters and trace them back to their origins, it’s easy to see that the folks at Epic have either outright created them or taken them and made them better.

With Gears of War 3, out today, it appears that Epic is now updating their own conventions in the interest of making them….well, a lot less conventional. Gears 3 includes no less than six different multiplayer modes, including a new version of Horde that incorporates tower defense elements and a new Beast Mode that allows you to play as some of the series’ more eccentric enemy types. Co-op now allows 4 players and includes diverging objectives across a massive 12-hour campaign.

Sure, Gears isn’t exactly Shakespeare…but how many games are, really? Early reviews of Gears of War 3 seem to indicate that Epic is raising the bar here, as well, citing the game’s convincing character development and moments of surprising emotional depth. Who knew Marcus Fenix was such a softy underneath all of that armor?

And now, D.J. weighs in on the rest of this week’s games:

Resident Evil 4 HD (XBLA, PSN) – Coincidentally, the game that practically invented the modern third-person shooter gets an HD facelift this week. Although the graphics are definitely showing their age, RE4 is still one of the finest games ever made and is worth trying if you somehow haven’t played any of its numerous iterations over the last five years. I already own two versions of it and I have to admit that I’m considering making this the third.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 (DS) – It’s like Dragon Quest, except you command a team of the series’s iconic monsters to do the battling for you. Expect to lose a few hundred more hours as you train your monsters and watch them evolve into new species that are both terrifying and adorable. Ooh, and you can battle your friends online this time, too.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Innocent Sin (PSP) – In case you’re wondering why there was so much fan excitement when Atlus announced this for the U.S., it’s because this is the first time this chapter of the Persona saga has been officially released in English. (Some potentially controversial content prevented the game from being localized on the original PlayStion.) Either gaming is growing up or Atlus couldn’t bear the thought of another decade of angry fan letters and online petitions.

Kirby Mass Attack (DS) – Control up to 10 Kirbys at once in this fully stylus-controlled game. Kirby: Canvas Curse, another stylus-only Kirby game, was the first DS game that really demonstrated the handheld’s potential to me, so I can’t wait to try out this spiritual sequel. It looks like there’s even some 2D shooting mixed in.

Burnout Crash! (PSN, XBLA) – In a strange reversal of the direction they took with Burnout Paradise, Criterion Games has taken its cataclysmic racing series and thrown out the actual racing in favor of focusing on just Crash mode, which now plays out from a top-down perspective. It’s an interesting move since I know Crash mode had quite a niche of followers who were disappointed by its absence in Paradise, but I can’t thinking it loses a lot of its appeal when you aren’t witnessing the ensuing chaos down at the street level in gritty photorealism.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Rezurrection (PSN, PC) – Hey, PlayStation and PC owners: You can finally grab this final Nazi zombie map pack, including one that takes place on the moon. Of course!

Cubixx HD (PSN) – I didn’t hear about this until recently, but it’s essentially a reworking of the classic Qix, except this time the playing field is wrapped around a 3D cube, and there’s… multiplayer deathmatch? I’m a fan of the original, so they’ve got my attention. Watch the trailer here.

Altered Beast (PSN) – WISE FWOM YOUR GWAVE. POWERRR UP! You know what this is.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, check out Tech-Gaming or Amazon.com.

Correction: Child of Eden isn’t out on PS3 until next week.

August 17, 2011

Play More Games: “Blasphemy”

We apologize for this image.

I don’t know what a Metatron is, but I think I want one.

It’s been a good Summer for people who like pretty games. Recent retail titles like Catherine, Shadows of the Damned and Alice: Madness Returns as well as downloadables like Outland, Bastion and From Dust have all boasted uniquely inspired art direction and high levels of visual polish. None of these hold a candle, however, to the insane amount of “pretty” on display is this week’s big new release, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.

Developed in Japan by Takeyasu Sawaki, one of the character designers on Devil May Cray and Okami, and released Stateside by Ignition Entertainment, the game attempts to do for Christian mythology (“El Shaddai” means “God Almighty” in Hebrew) what the God of War games did for Greek mythology. El Shaddai is adapted from the Book of Enoch in the Dead Sea Scrolls, apocryphal texts dating back to 150 B.C. that were omitted from the Old Testament.

On the surface, the story of Enoch (a living man permitted to reside in Heaven), sounds like classic quest-style gameplay: Enoch is charged by God to head to Earth and round up a group of seven fallen angels who have been inbreeding with the local wildlife (a.k.a. “the humans”). Your liaison with God while you’re on Earth is Lucifer, way before he had his little fallout out with upper management.

Instead of getting bogged down in the theology, the game instead focuses on a “simple to learn, hard to master” style of combat that includes single-button attacks, counters, blocks and parries. Early previews suggested that fans of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta-style games would be right at home. Beyond all of this, though, the visual appeal of the game is what drew me in: saturated colors, glowing Tron-like lines, and pencil sketch backgrounds with cell-shaded elements. Simply put, there isn’t a single other game out there that looks like El Shaddai. Reviews have been highly favorable, calling the game “visually inventive”, “a delight to play”, and “an absolute masterwork”.

I was initially concerned that this would be another case of style over substance (I’m looking at you, Alice) or, God forbid, a sly propaganda piece for the Republican Party, but the demo and reviews have eased my worries.  I’m dying to get my hands on it.

A few other releases on the VGH radar this week:

– Grasshopper Manufacture’s 2007 Wii release, No More Heroes, gets an HD up-rez and PlayStation Move support (in addition to other changes) in No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise for the PS3.

– Two of our recent XBLA crushes, From Dust and Bastion, will be available for download on the PC this week.

Breath of Fire IV, the classic J-RPG from the PSOne days, is available in the PlayStation Store this week.

And now, a note on Space Pirates and Zombies from D.J.:

Back in the mid-nineties, I played the absolute crap out of a Mac game by Ambrosia Software called Escape Velocity. It was essentially an RPG that started you off as a spaceship pilot, warping commodities and VIPs around the galaxy and occasionally tangling with space pirates as you upgraded into progressively swankier ships. Eventually, you could buy huge battleships to fight aliens and put down (or lead) a rebel uprising against Earth. As Randy would say, it was freakin’ excellent.

Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a successor to Escape Velocity, and I think Space Pirates and Zombies, or SPAZ, could be a contender. It’s got the whole space pirate and mercenary thing going, except instead of just your solitary ship, you can custom-build an entire fleet and swap between each ship in real time. There’s a massive galaxy to explore and conquer, weapons and technologies to research, and, as you might have inferred, zombies get involved at some point. Will it recapture the the innovation and magic of Escape Velocity? I’ll let you know.

Of course, you can always try it yourself. SPAZ is out on Steam this week, and there’s a very thorough demo available if you’re curious. It was developed over the last two years by Minmax Games, a team of two mere mortals, who I’m sure would love it if you played their game. If you see the appeal in the life of a space pirate, or you just want to support a cool indie developer, clear your schedule and give SPAZ a try.

August 3, 2011

Play More Games: “Overwhelmed and Underplayed”

Trying to see everything that this year’s PAX East gaming convention had to offer in the course of a single afternoon was an enterprise doomed from the start.  In my first 3 hours on the show floor, I had only managed to see two of the booths on my wishlist (Red Faction: Armageddon and L.A. Noire) and meet up with some fellow Dragon Quest IX devotees.  I needed to devise a smarter plan of attack or I was destined to waste what little time I had waiting in line to watch a video of the first 10 minutes of Portal 2.

What I decided to do was this: see smaller games.  I knew that behemoths like Duke Nukem and SOCOM would inevitably get plenty of press from gaming magazines and blogs (and, as it turns out now, more than a few mediocre reviews) so it was in my best interest to use my day in Boston to fill up on as many cool, creative, under-hyped indie and downloadable games as possible.  These games, by nature of their budgets and visibility, were bound to get less media coverage further down the road.  Plus, their lines were shorter.

Some of the games that I played that afternoon have, by now, been released: Bastion, Outland, and The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile all delivered on what they promised during their demos.  A few still haven’t seen the light of day: Orcs Must Die, Fallen Frontier and Warp all intrigued but are awaiting concrete release dates.  One of the games I was most impressed by, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, is out today as part of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade.

The look of I.T.S.P. instantly appealed to me: all shadows against deep hues with massive, multi-eyed, multi-tentacled monsters in pursuit of a tiny, seemingly defenseless UFO.  As I played with the ship’s lasers to take on smaller baddies and it’s claw to move obstacles, the charm of the gameplay began to click with me, as well.  The attendant manning the booth wasn’t willing to talk about multiplayer at the time but recent previews are describing it as more of a tactical co-op experience.  In short, I’m dying to get my hands on it this week.

On the subject of great independent games, LIMBO, one of my faves from 2010, is making it’s PlayStation Network debut this week.  If you don’t have access to an Xbox, this is your chance to play one of the most beautiful, engaging and singularly infuriating games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.

Lastly, if the summer gaming and television drought has made you truly desperate for entertainment, you can indulge your need for both in the video game versions of Bleach, Phineas and Ferb, and Sesame Street that are hitting store shelves this week.

July 26, 2011

Play More Games: “A Girl Named Catherine”

Contrary to whatever the hell I committed to in VGH#2, my junior prom date was actually a girl named Catherine. While I would eventually grow in to the shining example of maturity and social grace that listeners of the podcast have come to know, the late 80s/early 90s were not the best of times for me: I was chubby, nearsighted and bespectacled, prone to wildfire breakouts of acne, and hopelessly awkward. Why Catherine ever asked me to go to the prom with her (yes, that’s right — she asked me), remains a mystery for the ages.

In Catherine, the new game for PS3 and Xbox 360 from Atlus, gamers play as Vincent, a thirtysomething office drone whose life is thrown into disarray after a one-night-stand with the titular character. Despite a 5-year relationship with his pregnant girlfriend (named, oddly enough, Katherine), Vincent is quite literally haunted by his encounters with Catherine: much of the gameplay centers around a series of nightmares where our protagonist must climb crumbling staircases, avoiding obstacles and death, to reach the top and survive the night.

While a patently adult-themed video game about the lurking horrors of modern relationships was initially quite intriguing to me, it’s this detail (along with the reported extreme difficulty of Catherine) that has me hesitating: will balancing the intricacies of Vincent’s life during the day and surviving the nightmarish puzzles every evening keep me locked in to the game for 20+ hours and across multiple varying endings?

As long as one of those endings doesn’t involve me sitting alone in my room, still wearing my powder-blue accented tuxedo while listening to The Cure’s “Pictures of You” on repeat, Catherine has to be more compelling and satisfying than Prom Night 1991 was.

Also out this week and worth mentioning: XBLA’s Summer of Arcade continues with From Dust, Eric Chahi’s (Out of This World) spiritual successor to Peter Molyneux’s 1989 game, Populous. In the game, players will assume control over the environmental elements in a barren archipelago in an attempt to allow a nomadic tribe to flourish. Sounds interminably boring to me but I know there’s a huge audience out there starving for modern “God-games” like this.  PS3 and PC versions of From Dust will arrive later this year.

3DS gamers (both of us!) will be happy to see that there’s another release this week that might actually be worth playing: Pac-Man and Galaga Dimensions brings six new versions of the classic Namco games to Nintendo’s handheld, including the addictive Pac-Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions. Surely those must be worth a $40 purchase, right? RIGHT?

February 22, 2011

Play More Games: “Guns, Blobs and Money”

In gaming, as in life, timing is everything.  Selecting the ideal release date for your studio’s big title can be a dicey guessing game for even the most seasoned marketing team.  Most gamers, like myself, have limited funds available to indulge their hobby of choice and can’t afford to pick up multiple $60 games during the same pay week.

On May 18 of last year, three much-hyped games hit store shelves: Split/Second, Alan Wake, and Red Dead RedemptionRed Dead, as anyone who follows the gaming press undoubtedly knows, went on the become one of 2010’s most beloved and best selling games.  Split/Second and Alan Wake, unfortunately (despite offering solid and unique experiences in their own right) both undersold expectations and were quickly discounted by retailers.

Today, we see a similar showdown at play: Bulletstorm and Killzone 3 are out and vying for, seemingly, the same target audience’s disposable income.  Bulletstorm, available for both the PS3 and the Xbox360, follows the bloody and over-the-top exploits of a wise-cracking space pirate and his cyborg sidekick.  Killzone 3, a PS3 exclusive, follows a pair of interplanetary special forces operatives as they attempt to foil an invasion from alien evildoers.

Will one title trump the other in this battle for gaming dominance or do FPS fans have room in their hearts (and bank accounts) for both releases?  Only time will tell.  Personally, my money is on Killzone 3: the previous game in the series was such an energetic and chaotic take on conventional sci-fi shooter tropes that I’m curious to see how developer Guerrilla Games has upped the ante for this new installment.

If gray skies and galactic shenanigans don’t tempt you perhaps de Blob 2 can bring some color into your world.  Or you can just forgo gaming altogether this week and curl up with a good book and Cozy Fire, a downloadable WiiWare title that creates the illusion that your TV is, you guessed it, a fireplace.  Seriously.  This is the best selling console of the current generation?

Lastly, I’d get an earful from Paul if I didn’t mention that Xenogears, the classic PS1-era sci-fi RPG, is available to download from the PlayStation Store today.  Get your “deathblow” on.

For a full list of this week’s releases, check out Amazon.com or the good folks over at Tech-Gaming.com.