The next installment of StarCraft 2 arrives this week. Heart of Swarm tells the Zerg story (whereas Wings of Liberty, the 2010 release, told the Terran side of the story). I was never a big Zerg player, but I do like the way their race plays in the game. Each group is different, and while I really enjoyed playing as the Protoss, I could appreciate the intricacies of the Zerg. That said, Heart of the Swarm won’t be one of my 3 games this year – I never played a ton of Wings of Liberty, and I have stockpile of real-time strategy games to get through.

In other news, looks like the SimCity server issue is clearing up. Plus, Maxis/EA is offering everyone a free game to apologize for the mess! It’ll probably be Rugby 2008 or some crap, but hey, free game.

Friday, 3:11 pm – Albert

Just an FYI…

Friday, 8:51 am – Ricky

Really happy to hear you ended up enjoying Max Payne 3, Gavin. It was a great game – I’ll also admit, not a “Max Payne” game – and it deserves to be lauded with praise. I also really enjoy the multiplayer, though I’ve uninstalled the 30 GB download from my PC and have no intention of redownloading and installing it. NO. INTENTION. Well, maybe you AND Albert could change my mind.

I did get to play some games last night in between baking pies. matt and I booted up Resident Evil 6, which he graciously gifted me during the recent Xbox Live sales. We had previously played a bunch of Resident Evil 5 when it had released, and the fun we had in that game largely motivated our desire to play RE6.

First impressions (about 1.5 hours in): It’s MUCH faster paced than RE5. The movement speed, aiming, inventory access/mechanics, everything. The whole experience is quicker and more fluid, with minimal loads and lots of action. I can understand why fans of classic Resident Evil games might shake their heads at these changes, but as a casual fan of the series, I’m really enjoying the game so far. There are some jumps and frights, and I feel like I’m just on edge of losing control of the situation, but never quite losing it entirely.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the stunning graphics: the game looks amazing. I can’t believe the Xbox 360 is still pumping out games that look this good – shadows, lighting, character models, little details in the environment, this game is really top notch. I was also generously gifted an early birthday gift of Tomb Raider for the 360, and I’ve heard the game looks incredible on the system. For folks who’ve been through multiple console generations, we know that some of the best games come in the last year of the system. With the life of this current generation being prolonged, the industry has been churning out gems for a bit longer. I’m not complaining.

This weekend, plans include board games at Toronto fun spot Snakes and Lattes. We’re going to try some Ascension, as recommended why Andrew Carvalho on the podcast last month, and probably some Dominion, Settlers of Catan and Formula D (a racing board game).

Thursday, 11:23 am – Gavin

It begins…

This was posted to Reddit earlier today, from a Canadian Costco store.  $40 price drop, apparently an unofficial drop, but who knows at this point?  January’s sales for the Wii-U were pretty terrible for a single month; it had no major games released.  Could this have spurred the drop?  Or maybe it’s in slow response to the PS4 announcement.  Either way, I’m glad I’m holding off for now – I’m not certain I can justify the Deluxe set for more than $300.  There’s still no major system-seller for me, even though Lego City Undercover has been getting incredible reviews, as being “GTA, except with Legos”.  I’m waiting for my 3D Mario before I plunge.

Amazon.co.uk has also dropped the price by £50 on both models as well, but their prices were substantially higher than North America’s anyway.

Thursday, 10:00 am – Gavin

I think that there are multiple interpretations to a “completed game”.  You can finish a game but not be finished with it, and vice versa.  I have a hard time assigning a metric value to my enjoyment from a game wherein I didn’t complete the main quest.  I’ve been playing Fable 2 for four years now and I beat the main quest and side quests for the “good” character, but I can’t bring myself to play evil.  So, I’m missing out several of optional quests.  Can I really say that I finished Fable 2?  I still love playing the game.  Am I finished with it?

Meanwhile, GTA IV.  I stopped playing the single-player at the “Rigged to Blow” mission because I was finished with the game.  Plenty of people went full-on 100% in that game, trying to find those damn pigeons, but I couldn’t be arsed to even get 25% of the way through the game.  Yet I have no problem saying that I’m finished with it.

I guess it’s a lame copout, but it’s all relative.  Any game that has a “win” state can be “completed”, but it’s important to suggest that while the main line towards the win state constitutes the principle game, there are tons of supporting and ancillary lines that can be taken to enhance or supplement one’s experience with a game – any game with side quests.  But even then, I could do all of those, as I did with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and still not be finished because I want to explore the levels more – I want to know where every duct leads, what’s behind every door, behind every firewall, etc.

I choose not to look at it as having finished a game, but rather being finished with a game.  There’s lots I didn’t do in Super Paper Mario, but I’m done with the game.  It was fun, I played through the main story arc and didn’t do much exploration, and I have no need nor desire to go back to it.

I had a pretty productive gaming weekend.  My wife was out of town, so I just gamed until my eyes bled.  I finished Max Payne 3, and I will say that the game definitely got better as it progressed.  I complained about the flow of the levels, and the fact that the levels themselves didn’t feel like they belonged in a Max Payne game (Spoilers in white – highlight to read). However, the final three principle levels – the hotel, the police station, and the airport, all felt much more Max Payne-ish.  I felt like I could link them to levels in Max Payne 1 and 2 – the hotel is the construction yard from MP2, the police station is the hospital from MP2, the airport felt more like Horne’s tower from MP1.  The levels never had their flow broken, except very briefly in the police station when Max confronted the pervert from the strip club – that just felt unnecessary.

I complained about the overused “something happens and you lose your weapons” mechanic in the game – this game is BRUTAL for that.  However, they certainly tone it down in the final levels.  I don’t think they used it during the police station or airport levels at all, and I think it was definitely limited in the hotel levels – maybe once?

There was never any doubt that I was going to finish this game, but I’m exceptionally glad that I stuck it out to the end to see the dramatic improvements.  It was a good game and would still have been a good game even if the final levels weren’t as good as they were, but nonetheless, I was very pleased.  I retain my opinion that it just doesn’t feel enough like a Max Payne game, but don’t let that detract from the game itself – the mechanics are top-notch and it is gorgeous.  The attention to detail is immaculate, from the level of detail on Max’s improvised silencer in the hotel to the programmed animations when you try to open a door that can’t be opened in the game, to my favourite graphical detail, the wrinkles in Max’s suit jacket as he says goodbye to Passos – that one was top-notch and really fit the flow of the game tremendously, given how we’re supposed to feel about Max, and what we’re supposed to know about him.

The story darkened substantially, very quickly.  It was almost revoltingly dark when they make the big reveal.  Not quite what I had in mind when I said “I preferred it when Max Payne was darker” – I was referring to the physical brightness levels.  But it’s executed very smoothly and isn’t exploitative at all.

It does have atrocious loading times though.  They hide them behind cutscenes, but…yikes.  Some of them are really, really long.  Like two minutes of cutscene, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but sit there and time it out – you’ll find it’s a lot longer than you think.  I also occasionally couldn’t keep track of the groups trying to kill you – the Comando Sombra, the Cracha Predo, and the UFE – all I know is the UFE had heavy soldiers like the assholes in Spec Ops: The Line, and dammit they were a pain in the ass there as well.

I also got to start and finish Half-Life 2, Episode 2.  Yeah yeah, I know it’s old, but I finally got around to it.  Having playing HL2 and HL2Ep1 recently enough, I didn’t need to brush up too much.  What can I say about this game that hasn’t been said?  For a game that came out in 2007, the Source engine holds up incredibly well.  The fidelity of NPC faces during in-game play is phenomenal.  The action sequences are immaculate and there are a few levels that are genuinely stressful (that frigging Guardian larva level wrecked me).  I found that I had to read up a bit about the principle antagonists in this game though – I felt like they were glossed over a bit in Episode 1, only to have a MASSIVE role in Episode 2.  I was pleasantly surprised that the spoilers I had read about the game were only partially accurate, and didn’t actually spoil anything at all.  So, then ending pretty much hooked me and blew me away.  All in all, yes, it’s a shooter, but it’s just excellent storytelling as well.  You get a much better sense for the characterization of the Vortigaunts, who play a critical role in this game.  I know that Ricky hasn’t played it yet though, so no more spoilers.

I also started VVVVVVVVV (probably not the right number of Vs).  Holy shitballs, what a fun game.  PLAY IT NOW.

Wednesday, 2:21 pm – Ricky

ALL YOUR UPDATES ARE MINE!

Looks like it’s just me on the site this week, so you’re going to get some non-gaming related goodness! Tomorrow is the 14th day of the 3rd month. Said differently, 3.14. Said differently still, it’s International Pie Day in honor of  π.

I’ll be baking (!) a strawberry-rhubarb pie from scratch, the first time I’ve ever baked anything from scratch in my life. It’s going to eat into some gaming time tonight and tomorrow, but it’ll provide me with a different kind of entertainment. The delicious kind!

Tuesday, 2:10 pm – Ricky

The Sound Shapes updates and new DLC hits PSN today! Looking forward to diving back into this title – our chat with Andrew Carvalho, a designer on the game, got me excited to jump back into it all over again.

Monday, 1:26 pm – Ricky

I finally got around to updating my Challenge list: I’ve completed 4 games so far this year, which isn’t fantastic, but still better than nothing. I’m currently playing through Mark of the Ninja, and I’m really enjoying the art style and level layouts. I’m not doing so hot on the stealth side, but this game is pretty lenient with that sort of thing, as long as you don’t care about achievements and leaderboards (which I don’t).

Of course, I’m also playing SimCity. This begs the question of what constitutes a “completed” game. Is it a game where I’ve finished the story? But there is no story in SimCity? So is it then just a game that I’m satisfied with walking away from? Ah, but I’ve walked away from many games satisfied with what I’ve played, but not wanting to see it through to whatever constitutes the end game.

And what about games that don’t end, like Borderlands 2? I’ve played through the story once, but I’m only at level 36 out of 50, plus I have all of the DLC and many untouched sidequests. Do you have to finish 100% of the game’s content to consider it completed? Again, I finished the main missions for Assassin’s Creed 3 and Sleeping Dogs, but there are hours of additional content to play. Still, I consider AC3 and Sleeping Dogs completed.

So, is game completion a concept that varies relative to the game, the player, or both?

Monday, 8:44 – Ricky

Ugh, daylight savings time. How I loathe thee.

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