Tag Archives: Xbox 360

A Hero’s Journey

Almost immediately after beating and loving the first of the Mass Effect games I heard about a couple of others games that were purported to be attempting very similar things. The first was Obsidian’s Alpha Protocol. Apparently it was going to be Mass Effect meets a modern day spy thriller. How is that not amazing? Then there was Rise of the Argonauts which was Mass Effect set in ancient mythical Greece. Why not? I determined way back then that I’d be playing both of them. Period. While neither of these games turned out to wear that Mass Effect comparison quite so favorably, here I am…

On our way to slay Medusa despite the lack of Perseus.
“On our way to slay Medusa despite the lack of Perseus.”

Rise of the Argonauts is an RPG that is very much influenced by the “post-KoTOR” era of BioWare games. I definitely get a Jade Empire vibe from it but again the comparisons to Mass Effect are hard to avoid as well, especially considering the game’s Unreal Engine roots. You play as King Jason of Iolcus on his legendary quest for the Golden Fleece. Now, don’t get ahead of me too much here. I’m sure a lot of you have read about the myth of Jason or at least seen the rad Ray Harryhausen effects laden movie from the 1960s. This game takes innumerable liberties with the legend and indeed others so don’t think you already know the plot. That said, if you get a kick out of Greek mythology like I do then you’ll definitely enjoy some of references here.

After your journey aboard the suspiciously steampunk Argo kicks off you’ll be going relatively freely from place to place completing main quest objectives, doing side questions, and recruiting new members for your crew. Sound familiar? Despite the little bit of freedom you’ll have, you’re directed fairly narrow through the main plot and the games wraps up relatively quickly, which for me isn’t really a complaint – the length and the pace felt quite acceptable. You spend a surprising amount of time interacting with NPCs with a very Mass Effect like dialog system. Combat feels almost entirely separate from the conversations and even the exploration as it usually involves sections of the maps being cordoned off into little arenas with multiple waves of enemies that need to be defeated before moving on. There’s relatively little of it too, which isn’t such a bad thing since I never really got into the combat system.

Heavy attack, heavy attack, block, whatever...
“Heavy attack, heavy attack, block, whatever…”

The combat isn’t terrible, mediocre perhaps, but it just never “clicked” with me – whether an enemy blocked or dodged my blows, what weapons and attacks worked best for what situations, etc. just always felt fairly random and arbitrary to me. It wasn’t until one of my weapon/skill trees got nearly fully upgraded that combat became so easy I could simply stop feigning concern and do what felt the most cheaply effective. Even then, I didn’t care much for using many of the “active” special skills or powers as they took way too long to recharge and while boss fights could be challenging, the fodder wasn’t ever really worth wasting time using powers on.

You'll be seeing our protagonist from this angle *a lot* throughout the game.
“You’ll be seeing our protagonist from this angle *a lot* throughout the game.”

That said, there are some high notes as well. Although the dialog system didn’t seem to produce any decisions of consequence I felt like it was mostly well written and acted and Jason, while a little dry, is a fairly likable character, at least the way I played him as a devotee to Athena. Oh, and about that! I also liked the upgrade system, which had you earn “deeds” for meeting various goals, whether they be completing quests or more “achievement” like goals such as slaying 15 enemy mercenaries. You then chose which of four Greek gods you wanted to dedicate the deed too, essentially giving you XP to spend in that god’s particular skill tree. The dialog system incorporates this as well, with choices often differentiating between associating with each of the four gods rather than the more black and white, good savoir of humanity vs. evil dickhead choices RPGs usually give you.

Oh, I should also mention that a lot of the the videos and user reviews and whatnot I found online mentioned bugs and performance issues. Perhaps it helped that I had it installed on my 360’s hard drive and maybe its been patched since then too but I encountered relatively view bugs with the game and nothing I’d consider major.

A meeting with Prometheus.
“A meeting with Prometheus.”

Sticking with the technical stuff, graphically the game is quite a mixed bag. It left me a sour first impression with some extremely ugly pre-rendered (from the engine… why?) cut-scenes and some beyond awful animations. Once things got going for real though I started to admire some of the character models and designs as a whole. They’re not all good – the generic human NPCs found on Iolcus, for instance, are utterly fucking hideous, but some of the main characters such as Jason himself, are rather nice. Animations never get too much better but thankfully most of the other cut-scenes are kept in-engine so aren’t quite as jarring. Finally, the environments are, all in all, rather beautiful. There’s a lot of variety in color palettes and themes without feeling too contrived. I was especially impressed with my encounter with the Titan Prometheus down in… well, I don’t want to spoil it. Finally, the soundtrack is rather good for a game seemingly no one knows about and indeed a quick search resulted in a lot of people raving over it.

In summary, if you love BioWare style RPGs and Greek mythology and don’t mind going into it without huge expectations I’d certainly recommend Rise of the Argonauts. It’s a relatively short romp (for this type of game, at least) so I certainly don’t regret my time with it but I do have to admit that more than loving the game, it has me really wanting to play an actual BioWare game again ASAP.

As usual with Xbox 360 games these screenshots were stolen mercilessly, as is the way of Aries! I stole these ones, which are probably from the slightly better looking PC version, from http://www.computerbild.de. Danke!

Orc Slaying and Other Extreme Sports

Since I’ve been making a concerted effort to go through my Xbox 360 backlog I’ve been sneaking an Xbox Live Arcade title between every game or two. Having just completed Orcs Must Die! I figured I’d also go ahead and mention a couple others I put some time into recently.

Not pictured: imminent painful death.
“Not pictured: imminent painful death.”

First, I ended up buying and giving Trials HD a whirl. For those unfamiliar with the series (who are you?!) the game is kind of like a modern day Excitebike, only using an amped up physics engine and courses designed by total fucking sadists. You play an anonymous motocross rider negotiating various obstacles (that aren’t necessarily based in reality) as quickly and smoothly as possible. It’s not really a “race” in the traditional sense but you’re always racing against the clock to beat pre-defined goals. There’s also a nice feature that lets you easily compare your scores against your XBL friends’. I knew this game had a reputation for being brutally difficult but that it was also built from the ground up on that premise, making restarts and retries convenient and forgiving. It definitely delivers there, instilling a “just one more try!” attitude on even the least addictive personalities. Personally, while I feel like I could play this game forever, attempting to gold medal every race, unlock all of the achievements, etc. I honestly have too many games on my backlog to justify subjecting myself to the kind of frustration that started rearing its head once I got into the “hard” and “extreme” rated levels for too long. Yeah, I shamefully put this one down before completing it. If I had bought it when it came out I might have finished it but I just can’t force myself through it right now.

Promance? Nope.
“Promance? Nope.”

Speaking of which, I also ended up picking up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD during a XBLA sale at some point. Thinking of the first three Tony Hawk games causes an almost instant nostalgic flashback to my college years, with just about every one of my punk rock, wanna-be skater friends that owned a Playstation or Dreamcast at the time totally addicted to the series. I owned the barely adequate Nintendo 64 port of the first game myself and was totally addicted to it despite its shortcomings. How does it feel to go back? Eh, kind of shitty actually. The game looks pretty good and, at first play, controls more or less like what I remembered the series playing like. Unfortunately those positive impressions didn’t last long as I began to notice that the controls didn’t quite make the translation to the new HD engine which itself “feels” totally different and is chalk full of some now rather infamous physics bugs. Most offensively, the classic THPS soundtrack has been totally gutted. Licensing issues, most likely, but it still changes the experience drastically. While I wouldn’t necessarily tell any fans of the original to totally steer clear of this remake I’d definitely suggest giving the demo a shot first. Personally, after clearing about half of the levels I’ve decided to put it down.

Finally, an XBLA game I couldn’t even start to put down early was Orcs Must Die! Holy shit, I love this game! I’ve talked very fondly about both Toy Soldiers and Defense Grid on this blog in the past so it probably comes as no surprise that I’m raving about yet another highly polished tower defense game. Orcs Must Die! probably more closely resembles Toy Soldiers, as it gives the player the ability to participate in the action themselves rather than just hover above the battlefield like some kind of micromanagement obsessed deity. Actually, this game goes even further with the third person action component being a much more fleshed out and indeed, important part of the game. Some of my strategies actually centered on my reinforcing one or two paths with traps while guarding the other with my character’s selection of weapons and spells.

Step into my web, little orcs...
“Step into my web, little orcs…”

Let me back up for a second and explain the premise a little better – you play as a sarcastic apprentice “war mage” who has been tasked with guarding the magical portals from one world, apparently occupied by all manner of nasty orcs and other stereotypical fantasy monsters, to your own. These portals are all inside of dungeon-like fortresses, some of them fairly elaborate, though unlike a lot of tower defense games their layouts never really get *too* complicated. As per usual, your enemies come in various “waves” of different combinations of enemies with breaks in between in which you can use the money you’ve earned by killing enemies from previous waves to shore up your defenses. In this game your “towers” actually consist of various types of dungeon traps – spiked floor panels and wall dart launchers to kill your enemies, swinging maces and crushing ceiling tiles to maim them, and sliding walls and springing floor panels to send them hilariously flailing off of ledges and into lava pools. There’s even placeable archer and paladin NPCs to help guard your paths. Unlike some tower defenses games, you can also place them just about anywhere they’ll fit. The traps and other defenses are rolled out to you steadily as you progress, which means back tracking in the campaign can be helpful to improve your score, and there’s even an optional (and ultimately very useful) skill tree system that gets introduced a little further into the campaign.

No good shots showing the UI, unfortunately.
“No good shots showing the UI, unfortunately.”

I ended up working my way through the entire War Mage campaign (normal difficulty) with 4 or 5 skull ratings on every map. I highly considered going back and chasing 5 skull ratings on every map, or playing through the campaign on a higher difficulty, but again, too many games too little time. It’s a shame that the sequel never got released on Xbox 360 but I MOST DEFINITELY plan to pick up Orcs Must Die! 2 on Steam. Robot is also apparently working on Orcs Must Die! Unchained now which turns the whole thing into some kind of weird, Team Fortress 2 inspired 5 vs 5 competitive game. Intriguing!

Per usual, Xbox 360 screenshots stolen from wherever possible.

Redemption: Zombies

As promised, hot off the heels of completing the main Red Dead Redemption single player campaign I installed and started playing the game’s expansion pack / DLC Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. Undead Nightmare is interesting for sure, being something of a “total conversion” of the main game with some different gameplay elements and a different flow than the core game. The (obviously totally non-canon) story revolves around RDR’s protagonist having to track down a cure to an evil undead invasion that has taken over the frontier.

Lovely family...
“Lovely family…”

Now, given how “straight” the story and characters of Red Dead Redemption are I really wasn’t sure of what to expect of the expansion. Zombies, really? Was it going to be serious or totally ridiculous? The answer is somewhere in between though for the most part it keeps its serious tone and most of the more fantastic elements and humor are delivered in a very dry way which I found amusing in itself. That actually effected the entire feel of the expansion for me too – on one hand I felt like I shouldn’t take my playthrough too seriously, as it is just a silly spin-off story. On the other the fact that the world still feels dark and gritty and, over the top moments like when I found and then “broke” one of the four fucking horses of the apocalypse aside, the tone is never really completely shattered helped continue to keep me almost as immersed as the original campaign.

The zombies themselves are obviously a game changer. The whole “zombie headshots” thing definitely had a major effect on my game. Zombies will usually go down with a single shot to the head or by being burned, anything else seems to have very little effect on them. Personally I didn’t make going for headshots a priority at all in Red Dead Redemption proper so this new focus on lining up my kill shots really changed the whole dynamic of combat for me, especially when ammo was extremely scarce early on. Zombies also behave unlike any other enemies in the original game and the new special zombies add even further variety to the combat.

Headshot, headshot, headshot. Learn to abuse Dead-Eye!
“Headshot, headshot, headshot. Learn to abuse Dead-Eye!”

Probably the biggest departure from the main game, mechanics wise, is the introduction of a town invasion system. All of the main towns and camps in the game have a limited number of survivors. They’ll come under attack at some point (it seems to be on some sort of timer) and you’ll need to help repel the attack and clear the town of zombies. If you wait too long or things go badly you might lose some survivors. The less survivors the more frequently the town will be attacked until such a time that it can no longer be cleared back out, losing you access to small weapons caches and a bed to save your game and fast travel with. While defending these towns can get a little repetitive on a whole I found the system pretty fun. I do wish I had paid more attention to the fact that you can “assist” survivors to speed up the process of clearing out a town, however, as a few of my earlier attempts to clear towns out were lengthy and fairly exhausting affairs.

Then there were the bugs. I don’t know if this is a wide spread problem or not (I’ve read some things that implied that these issues were only caused by a very recent patch) but boy was my game fucked. It seemed like after playing for a while NPCs and zombies would start spawning with invisible bodies, as in you could only see their clothing. This made going for headshots a little challenging given how few zombies have the fashion sensibility to sport hats. Worse, whenever this happened I would often notice certain events failing to trigger. The first graveyard I had to clear in the story took me well over an hour due to having to restart it over several times, with one of my runs netting me something like a hundred kills before exhausting all of my ammo and depleting my will to fight on. I’d also often run into a seemingly related glitch where trying to save my game would cause it to freeze. Thankfully the generous checkpoint system meant that this was never more than a bit of an inconvenience but it was annoying all the same.

On a pale horse (running the hell away...)
“On a pale horse (running the hell away…)”

Overall would I recommend it? Even with the bugs I experienced I could easily recommend it to anyone who liked Red Dead Redemption and likes massacring zombie hordes. Even if you only want a little more time with John Marston and company and don’t care much for zombie games I’d probably recommend it if nothing else but for another opportunity to run through Red Dead’s excellent world, albeit a slightly twisted version.

Xbox 360 screenshots looted from a cursed Aztec tomb because I’m a bad, bad man.