I’ve been busy with renovating the apartment, going for more than a week without a functioning computer, not checking my RSS feeds for over two weeks. Despite the exhaustion, gaming has been going on.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots (PS3)
I’m not sure what I was expecting from MGS4, probably because I skipped MGS3, despite remaining a staunch fan of the first two games. I didn’t know what to expect, but it wouldn’t have mattered, because right from the second it begins, MGS4 works very hard at breaking your expectations until you give in and just take it as it comes. I did not buy into the hype at all and had read very little of the game beforehand, but my god – Kojima has outdone himself in every level.
I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but if you’re over-sensitive to such things, just skip to the next paragraph. The game is full of inspired, marvelous moments. The section where you replay your insertation to Shadow Moses island from the original game is just genius, blurring the lines between yourself now and a decade a go, between consoles now and two generations ago, between control schemes, between your expectations of a videogame now and then. The re-staged finest moments (locations, setups, boss fights, feelings…) from the previous games are used masterfully, bypassing the worry that it would feel like backtracking. The way your original bewilderment upon first witnessing the Metal Gear Rex is used in the cathartic, epic exit from Shadow Moses just blew me away. I can’t resist this kind of playing to my heart.
There are a lot of very long cutscenes. For the most part they’re executed very well. The game is a whole, not something that’s “padded out” with CGI. The mission briefings are far too long, however, and the first meeting with Drebin the gun launderer is just way too long and boring. But all told, of my about 18 hours with the game so far, I’ve spent perhaps a couple of full-length movies’ worth of time just watching the story play out, and I don’t mind. It often spins your expectations and blurs the lines between gameplay and cutscene. The mix-up is handled much better than previously, usually giving the player plenty of time to explore the gameplay. Codec discussions are pretty rare and certainly never jarring like in MGS2.
Speaking of gameplay, they’ve finally figured out how to control Solid Snake. I’m sure it can still be a bit much for a newcomer, but you can now have actual gunfights in the game, effortlessly switching between third and first person. Indeed, it’s often possible to just shoot your way through, if you’re so inclined. Even the camera plays nice.
Metal Gear Online (PS3)
Considering the near-unplayable control schemes of Metal Gears past, I was not looking forward to online Metal Gear action. After the ridiculously long and complex process of getting your free online MG passes (whatever they call them), the game proved to be rather engaging and accomplished. I neglected to complete the story mode of MGS4 on my vacation due to playing this too much. I am left wanting some sense of progression, á la Call Of Duty 4 or Battlefield, though. A suitably tactical and slow-moving affair, it looks like it’s going to become a steady component of the PlayStation Network game. It offers a lot of possibilities and maintains a distinct Metal Gear flavor, despite remaining accessible. The kind of MG humor that’s in it sets it apart. You can’t beat human catapults in an apparently serious military setup.
I understand that they’re going to support this barebones start with downloadable maps and whatnot, and let’s just say that I hope they’re ready for deployment – what’s here is good, but it’s woefully short on quantity.
Ridge Racer 6 (Xbox 360)
I have not played Ridge Racer before, I’m ashamed to admit. Being an OutRun fanboy, I felt right at home with the on-rails handling model, although this is definitely an acquired taste. They don’t get more arcadey than this. After my first session with the game, I felt very underwhelmed with the cool, laid-back presentation and Namco insider humor. After a couple of hours it really grew on me and now I can’t wait to get back to the “World Xplorer”. This single-player mode where you complete races and uncover a map of sorts while doing it is proving to be very addictive. I’m not crazy on the music and many of the car designs aren’t really to my taste, but nevertheless, there’s something about this 60 frames per second smooth ride that beckons me. It’s just so very relaxing, even when you’re trying the same race for the twentieth time, before realising that you just need to unlock a faster car to stand a chance.
Guitar Hero On Tour (DS)
When I first heard about this instalment of the Guitar Hero franchise, I took it for a joke. When I actually saw it in my hand, I just thought that it wouldn’t work. The problem is, it does, but it could have been so much more. The add-on to your Nintendo DS works fine. You plug it in and presto – you have four fret buttons on your DS, just like what you have on your guitar controllers. There’s one button less, because your frethand is also supporting the DS and you can’t move it. The guitar pick shaped stylus is excellent. Strumming on the touch pad works fine. Activating Star Power is achieved by shouting or blowing into the microphone or hitting just about any of the DS’s face buttons. (Blowing or shouting works best.) With the functionality in check, the problem lies with presentation.
The game does a good job of replicating the look and feel of the main series. However, the dark 3D graphics do not sit well on the relatively tiny screen of the DS. I have zero interest in modifying my character, because I can’t really see her at any stage, much less her instruments. Constrained to the small size, the 3D models of the characters are utterly charmless. Most of the time, I can’t see anything going on apart from the actual note track, especially since the DS is shaking around with the fretting and strumming.
The game could have been improved a lot by adopting a brighter, less serious style. What with the fewer frets and the feel of playing a fake guitar on the DS, a “jamming” or backstage approach would’ve been more at home instead of the miniature version of rockstardom that’s on offer. Now it feels like a lesser substitute for the main series, which is a shame.
The black and white, Escher-inspired, “what you see is what you get, despite what your brain thinks is there” puzzler feels like it might be a cool game. As it stands, there are a couple of problems with it. For one, the basic controls don’t quite work. It can be far too difficult to spin the view into a working angle, even if you know what you want to achieve, even if you keep the “snap” button pressed at all times. Then there’s the unpredictability of the design – sometimes what you see is not what you get, and this basically breaks the game when it happens. Finally, the basic structure of the game is not rewarding and I find it hard to get excited about beating another level. All this said, a noble effort and I trust to come back to it every once in a while.
Rock Band (Xbox 360)
We’ve played a lot more of Rock Band with my wife. I’ve completed the guitar solo tour, we’re pretty far in a guitar and bass powered band world tour and I’ve dabbled in the singing solo tour. The game is still great and I haven’t even really gotten into the drums yet. Having played some more with the Rock Band Stratocaster controller, it just doesn’t work as well as the Guitar Hero III wireless Les Pauls, even if the effects switch is fun to play with at times.
PlayStation Portable online
I’ve mucked around with the PSP quite a bit, using it for my internet needs when I couldn’t hook up a computer. I also like the fact that since it’s hard to type on the thing, you’ll mostly just browse stuff, not getting too involved – perfect for a holiday. I played some games, as well, getting frustrated with the (presumably) final fight of the otherwise excellent Killzone: Liberation and getting closer to finishing God Of War: Chains Of Olympus, which is still rock solid.
PlayStation 3 online
When I absolutely needed to type during my vacation, I used a USB keyboard plugged into the PS3. The web browsing on the PS3 works just fine and all I missed was support for my Scandinavian keyboard layout. I had to switch to a new wireless box and had zero problems with my PS3 setup – completely effortless, just the way it should be. (My Xbox 360 still won’t talk to my computer.)
What I continue to loathe about the online enabled PlayStation is the updating and installing. I’d be playing on the PC if I wanted to spend time installing games. The time it takes to update the PS3 is ridiculous and the bloody thing is updating itself every time I turn it on (which hasn’t been very often, not until MGS4). I’m not sure how Microsoft does it, but for some reason the Xbox 360 updates are never this bothersome. Granted, it’s usually just a couple of minutes, but the time I wanted to get down with Metal Gear Solid 4? Over an hour of installing and updating, both the console and the game, further extended by the unbelievably convoluted process of registering for Metal Gear Online. Exactly why do I need two additional IDs in addition to my PlayStation Network ID to play one goddamn game? This shit wouldn’t fly with any other game than MGS.