Friday, February 11, 2011

Guitar Hero: The Death of a Rock Star

So who didn't see this one coming from a mile away?  Or in my case, from all the way back in July of 2008 when I did my review of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith?  If you haven't heard, this week during their annual earning's call, Activision announced the closing of their Guitar Hero facilities, cancelling the planned 2011 Guitar Hero and basically killing the franchise.  The reason they gave was because of the over saturation of the music genre of video games. 

...this is my surprised face...

Actually, as I thought about my time with Guitar Hero, it dawned on my that it's life cycle was exactly the same as a one-hit wonder, and this week that artist was just dropped from their label.  So I guess this is the E! True Hollywood Story of Guitar Hero. 

I first played the game way back in 2007 with Guitar Hero 2 on the XBox 360.  I'll never forget how completely lost I felt as I tried to play the game the first time.  Sitting there on my couch, alone, pressing the buttons like some drunk monkey and hearing "clang" after "clang" ring from my TV before I eventually failed at the song.  Realizing I was doing something terribly wrong, I stood up, cleared away my coffee table, and got ready to rock.  The next couple hours was one of the best video game experiences ever.  By the time my roommate got home, I was exhausted, sweating, and having the time of my life.

Two years and approximately 27 versions of the game later, we reached the pinnacle of the genre.  In the summer of 2009 at the opening of a new movie theater in Hoboken, NJ, they set up a Beatles Rock Band and were giving away free copies.  The set up was a huge stage, with flat screen TVs, lights, amps, and a full Beatles Rock Band set and they were asking for volunteers to play the drums, which I was more than happy to do.  As I sat up there, getting ready to play, with The30yoWife on the bass, and a crowd of about 20 people watching, I thought, we've certainly come a long way from my couch in my living room.

We rocked it out that night to "Eight Days a Week" and to this day, we still talk about how awesome an experience it was.  I don't think I'll ever forget the smattering of applause our "tribute band" got when we finished and the smile on my wife's face when it was over. It was simply put the closest we will ever be to feeling like rock stars, and when you think about it, that was what the game was all about.  It was awesome.

That was the peak of my Guitar Hero career.  I guess it followed the same pattern of any one hit wonder.  At first, not a lot of people heard about it.  Then it became bigger than they could handle, faster than they could handle.  Before you know it, it's being played in every bar across the nation.  And just like that, when they can't produce enough of them, the audience turns and no one wants it anymore.  From "Nobody", to "Superstar", to "Has Been" in a matter of a couple years. 

And this is completely Activision's fault.  They were producing on average 4 Guitar Hero games a year and each one of them had a ton of downloadable content.  It was just way too much.  I like playing Guitar Hero, but I don't need every single song I've ever heard to be in a Guitar Hero game.  It kinda defeats the purpose.  Then you combine that with all of the Rock Band and DJ Hero games and you've got a complete over saturation of the market and everyone is tired of it.  The last game they released which was Guitar Hero 5 last year was a complete failure and it costs them too much to license all of the songs for no one buying the game. 

That's the life of a rock star I guess.  And the same can be said for a rock star video game.  Years from now when I tell my kids about these games, the story will end like every E! True Hollywood Story:  It was fun while it lasted.

Until next time,

 - The 30 Year-old Gamer

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Good, but not Great - Call of Duty Black Ops Review

As I mentioned in my last post, I picked up a copy of Call of Duty Black Ops a couple weeks ago when Best Buy was running this fantastic deal on games.  I beat the single player version of the game last night and have plenty to say on it, both good and bad.  Let me just get this out of the way, technically the game is the best first person shooter out there.  However, there are many frustrating aspects of the game that hold it back and I fear that it's days in my Xbox are numbered.

First let's talk about how this game is technically.  The game is easily one of the two best first person shooters out there.  The debate of whether you like Halo or Call of Duty better can go on forever, but you can't deny that Call of Duty is awesome in the area of shooting things.  The controls are awesome.  They are so tight and accurate that when you play other games like it, you have to compare it to the gold standard that is Call of Duty.  There are also a ton of weapons that all fire differently with different accuracy.  There is no one weapon that's better than other.  In some scenarios you are inside and want a shotgun, while others you are in a field and need a rifle with a scope.  All are different and all are a pure joy to use. 

The graphics are insane.  If you shoot a guy in the head, he drops instantly.  Shoot him in the leg and he'll keep firing until you riddle him with bullets.  The sounds that come from the game couldn't be more realistic.  From explosions to gun fire to the great voice work by Ed Harris and Sam Worthington, the sound is top notch from beginning to end. 

And the story is probably the best in the entire series.  You play a black ops officer named Mason who is strapped to a chair and is being questioned from a shadowy voice about his adventures.  At which point you relive all of his Cold War adventures starting with the Bay of Pigs and going through Vietnam.  There were several moments throughout the game that I'll never forget, like sailing down a river blowing up everything that moves while Sympathy for the Devil is blaring.  The ending was fantastic and for the first time in a long time the story seemed believable.  I really liked it and for it alone it was worth the $60.

Now let me get to my gripes about the game.  First of all, did Michael Bay direct this game?  I don't think 30 seconds went by during the entire game where there wasn't a huge explosion or someone wasn't yelling at me for something.  "Mason Get Down!"  "Mason Grenade!"  "Mason I Need A Beer!"  Dear lord, just shut up.  I was seriously questioning whether to turn the sound off because it was giving me a headache.  Guys, I'm no history major, but I'm sure things didn't explode this much in Vietnam.

My second gripe is that I really feel like I've been there, done that.  How many Call of Duty games have I played over the past few years?  7?  12?  It's the same game over and over again.  The game is good, there is no doubt, but I've really played this before with Modern Warfare 2 and before that with World at War and before that with Modern Warfare and so on.  The "wow factor" of this game is completely gone for me.  It was enjoyable, but sort of forgettable at the same time.

That leads me to my biggest gripe of this game which will get the biggest feedback I'm sure.  The multiplayer is just not fun at all.  In my mind, it's broken.  It rewards people who live online too much and punishes people like me who play casually.  Here's how.  The more you play the game you earn these Call of Duty Points.  You earn them from completing games, killing people, etc.  You can then spend these points on better weapons, better rewards (I'll get to those in a sec), and being quieter so people can't see you on radar.  So if you play more, you have an advantage going into an online match.

Then when you are in a match on line you get a reward for having getting a kill streak.  So say you kill 3 people in a row, then you can get a radar scan which shows you where all the enemies are (not fair), which makes it easy to kill more.  Then you get 5 kills in a row and you can call in an attack chopper which will just gun down more guys for a higher kill streak where then you can get a napalm strike or some other ludicrous weapon.

So let me get this straight.  You start with better weapons and when you go on your inevitable kill streak they reward you with air support for more kills?!  I, on the other hand, start off with the equivalent of a supersoaker and run around the map with a bell on my neck.  Seriously, that's not far from the truth.  Five minutes later, I've killed 4 people and have died 16 times when I hear "Enemy Napalm Attack Imminent".  I actually spent one entire match just standing around.  Didn't touch the controller.  And you know what? I did better!  I had zero kills and nine deaths which is a better ratio than actually playing the game.  Sound broken to you, because it does to me.  I feel like a nerd getting picked on by the entire football team when I'm out there.  How is this supposed to be fun again?  Oh yeah, it isn't.  I have better ways to spend my time.

So while the game is good, it isn't great and I certainly don't consider it a masterpiece.  Play it for the single player and if you don't want to spend a significant amount of time getting owned online, skip the multiplayer. 

Until next time,

- The 30 Year-old Gamer

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Now This is a Big Deal

So this holiday season I pitched a shutout for the first time I can remember.  It was the first year in almost forever that I didn't receive a single video game.  Not one.  Now granted I'm a new husband and new homeowner so there are other things that were a priority this holiday season.  But still, when the calendar turned to 2011, I was sitting in my new home wondering what games should I play. 

Last week, Best Buy came to my aid.  They offered a not so public special where you can buy 2 games and get a 3rd game for free.  I had to jump all over this offer.  But then came the decision.  If you could purchase any 3 games over any of the major systems, which 3 games would you choose?  I had to create a list.  It's a list of games that I've wanted to play but haven't for whatever reason over the past 6 months.  There were single player games, multiplayer games, sports games, and role playing games.  Here was my list:

* Call of Duty Black Ops - 360
* FIFA 11 - 360
* Mario Galaxy 2 - Wii
* Assassin's Creed Brotherhood - 360
* Final Fantasy 13 - 360
* Goldeneye - Wii
* Deadrising 2 - 360
* Fallout New Vegas - 360

I had to choose 3 out of 8.  This was too much to do in the store, so I had to do some research ahead of time and eliminate some choices.

First, Call of Duty Black Ops was a definite.  I've always been a Halo guy.  I just like the game more.  It suits my gameplaying style better.  I do love the Call of Duty series and couldn't wait to play this one, so it definitely makes the list.  Which leaves 2 out of 7.

FIFA 11 was a game I really wanted during the World Cup and would still love to play it.  But I fear that I would play the game for a few hours and never touch it again once I've scratched that itch, sort of speak.  So it was out.  2 out of 6

Mario Galaxy 2 I've heard great things about.  However the first Mario Galaxy was also really good but lost my interest early in the game.  While everything was good (graphics, controls, etc) it just seemed like it was aimed at a younger audience.  Which was when I realized I had outgrown Mario.  Sad but true.  2 out 5

Final Fantasy 13 has an awesome trailer.  I couldn't wait to play the game.  Then I read a review which said the game starts to get good about 25 hours into it.  What?  I don't have that kind of time.  Pass 2 out of 4

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood was a game I was originally going to pass on.  But I played and loved the first two games.  I considered the AC2 to be one of the best games of all time.  The trailer for this game looks great and the reviews have been awesome.  OK, I'm sold.  1 out of 3 remaining.

So I went to Best Buy looking to choose one from Goldeneye, Deadrising 2, and Fallout New Vegas.  I first picked up Fallout and was interested.  I like dystopian stories and love Vegas, so it was an early front runner.  Then a Best Buy associate came by and said that the game was full of glitches and he's heard customers complain a lot.  He had played it and said the graphics also looked a little dated.  Back to the shelf it went. 

I walked around with both Goldeneye and Deadrising in my hand for about 15 minutes, switching back and forth between the two.  I loved the original Deadrising and Goldeneye 64 was my 2nd favorite game of all time (before I played Mass Effect 2).  I really wanted to play Goldeneye again, I love Daniel Craig as the new Bond, and miss my Wii.  Goldeneye won out!

So I left Best Buy last week with Call of Duty Black Ops, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, and Goldeneye Wii.  Best Buy saved my winter and spring.  Now the only question is, what game do I play first?

Until next time,

 - The 30 Year-old Gamer

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It's About Time! - Back to the Future Review

I'm a product of the 80's.  I grew up in the 80's and 90's and love all of the classic movies from those time periods.  I loved Transformers, Ghostbusters, and more to the point Back to the Future.  The Back to the Future Trilogy was one of the best in American Cinema history.  Sure the story was formulaic and writing was pretty dry at times, but I loved the adventure.  Even now, 25 years later I can still sit down and watch all three movies with as much love in my heart as I did when I was a kid.  In fact, I did rewatch all three movies just a few weeks ago.  So if any game developer is stupid enough to create a game about the Back to the Future movies, they have very high expectations they have to meet in my eyes.  The good news is, that the people at Telltale met and exceeded those expectations with their new game Back to the Future the Game.

The game is for your PC or Mac and plays like a point and click adventure game.  No first person shooting here.  You control Marty by pointing and clicking your mouse on various objects and people and try to solve puzzles.  The controls work well, even if the puzzles can be a little simple at times.

The story takes place about 3 months after the end of the third film.  Doc is gone time travelling around the world and he's left Marty alone in 1986 Hill Valley.  Now this has two affects.  First, Marty misses his best friend, and the second is the town misses Doc's money, specifically when it comes to property taxes.  They can be funny like that.

So the town has seized Doc's house and is about to sell off his stuff.  Your first mission is to get over there and make sure no sensitive information (like how to build a time machine) falls into the wrong hands (like Biffs).  When you get through that, it's a convenient plot twist and a few puzzles later and then it's off to prohibition era Hill Valley to spring Doc out of jail.  To do this you need to enlist the help of 17 year old Doc and the fun really begins.

Here are the downsides to the game.  This is just the first episode of a promised six and it's very short.  You can get through the game in just a few hours.  Right when I was really digging the game and the story, it's the famous "To Be Continued..."  The second problem I have with the game is it's very easy.  There really wasn't anything that was majorly challenging.  Some puzzles were a little more difficult than others, but none were overly difficult and if any were, there is a hint system which basically tells you what to do.

Here are the positives.  It's Back to the Future!  They did a great job recreating Hill Valley and the adventure seems very authentic.  I loved walking around the town and talking to people.  The actor who does the voice over for Marty is completely spot on.  You would think it was Michael J Fox.  The animation is fantastic and the game is just very fun.  I plan on going through the game again just to play different choices and to see if anything different happens.

Overall the game is great and it's perfect for Back to the Future fans of all ages.  The next episode comes out next month and I can't wait to see where they go from here considering the cliff hanger they leave this episode off with.  I hope the game gets a little bit harder and maybe throw in a different game play element from time to time.  But overall, if you are a Back to the Future fan, this game is a must play at $25.

Until next time,

- The 30 Year-old Gamer 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What a Year - 2010 Review

2010 was a landmark year in my life for many reasons.  Getting married and buying my first house top the list.  And when I look at the year in video games there are a few things that really stand out.  Let's take a look at the big themes for 2010 and how they affected the video game industry.


The lagging recession and subsequent struggling economy had a major impact on video games in 2010.  First of all, there really are only two major developers left in the industry, Electronic Arts and Activision.  Back in the day, there were several equally important video game developers, but as the cost of creating a video game has risen to Hollywood blockbuster levels (over $100M), the small development company has become extinct.  In 2010, we saw that in full effect as Bungie (Halo series) was purchased by Microsoft and Infinity Ward (Call of Duty series) was purchased by Activision. 

This is going to have two major effects on the industry over the next several years.  The first effect is going to be the numerous iterations of very similar titles.  There's too much money at stake for these companies to go out on a limb with new untested video games.  Instead, they know they will make a fortune by repackaging an already successful series.  This was very apparent in 2010 with titles like Halo 5, er Halo Reach.  Call of Duty 7, er Call of Duty Black Ops, Fallout 3, Fable 3, Assassins Creed 2.5, er Assassins Creed Brotherhood, and Mass Effect 2.  All very successful titles.  All sequels.  And all will have many other sequels in the upcoming years.

The second effect will be the increased production of these games.  Have you ever felt that during the summer, there are just simply too many movies to see?  The same thing is going to happen to the video game industry.  It's easy to put a new coat of paint on a Call of Duty game and ship it out.  So instead of having a new Halo game every three years, we will see a new game every single year.  A huge blockbuster game will be released every single week leading up to Black Friday every year.  The gamer will just have to decide what game they want and stick with it.  You are either a Halo fan or Call of Duty fan.  Either Fallout or Fable.  There will be no room for in between which is a shame because all of the games are very good and I'd love to play them all.  But being a 30 year-old married homeowner, I don't exactly have the time.  And if you are a 17 year-old high school student, you don't exactly have the money.  So make your choice and stick with it.

Death of the Console Casual Gamer

Casual gaming was all of the rage a couple years ago when the Wii was first introduced.  But in 2010, with the struggling economy, the Casual gamer focused their funds elsewhere.  No one was buying Wii games in 2010 and the developers took notice and took their games to other systems.  The Wii for the first time ever was not the most popular console sold, and took a backseat to the Xbox 360.  What does this mean?  It means that the casual gamer bought their Wii for Wii Sports and now it's sitting in their living rooms collecting dust. 

It also means that the big launches of Xbox Kinect and Sony Move fell flat.  The devices are impressive, especially the Kinect, but the games aren't there.  People who thought the technology was cool bought the systems during the initial launch and then the sales fell off a cliff.  There just aren't any games that would get the hard core gamer to buy the equipment.  And since there are no gamers, the developers can't afford to develop games.  At the end of the day, Microsoft and Sony jumped into the game too late as the casual gamer has moved onto something else.

Welcome to the App Store

And where have those casual gamers gone?   To their phones.  There was a huge explosion of games for all of the Apple Iphones and Droid devices that have got those casual gamers flocking to.  With wildly successful titles like Angry Birds, Bejeweled, and Plants vs Zombies, the wireless video game industry has arrived.  Now casual gamers are simply turning on their phones and playing a game for a few minutes at a time.  They don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on a system and then $60 a pop for a game.  They can simply download a game in a minute which will entertain them for a few hours for .99c. 

This wave has taken over the industry and has been a place where the independent developer can really shine.  It doesn't cost much to create a game and a good game can make you millions.  Something as simple as Angry Birds can be one of your most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year.  It certainly was for me.

And this industry is just in its infancy.  The possibilities are endless.  Games are just starting to sync up with Facebook so you can casually play with your friends.  It's truly a huge growth area for 2011.

Overall, 2010 gave us some great games and while some areas of the industry are taking off others are cruising right along.  There were more people playing video games in 2010 then in any other year ever.  I can only hope the industry and people in it really take another step forward in 2011.

Until next time,

- The 30 Year-old Gamer