XMission's Company Journal

It’s the Most Wonderful Time 2009


Last year around this time I wrote an article for our blog mentioning several of the stellar titles that were shipping in time for the holidays.  Some of them ended up being awesome, and some not quite as much, but it’s clear that last Christmas was fantastic in terms of new games being released.

This year I’m going to do something a little different.  I’ll still be talking about some new releases but they’ll mainly be focused on titles that have already shipped and that I’ve had a chance to play.  And rather than try to analyze them critically and attach a numerical score to their merits I’ll simply endeavor to point out interesting aspects of the game and overall experience.   What this means is there’s going to be an emphasis placed on PS3 games, since thats the platform I use most often.  And now, on to the games!

First up is Uncharted 2.  This is the sequel to a game that I never played when it was released.  It looked too much like Tomb Raider for my taste and I never bothered to try it.  So, going into Uncharted 2, I didn’t have many expectations other than to see what everyone was so giddy over.  I picked it up to play for an hour and call it good but became so engrossed that I played it at every opportunity over the course of the next 3 weeks until I had finished it.  This alone says something about the game because I play so many that I rarely have the interest or time to complete one from start to finish.

The gameplay itself is a sort of mashup of stealth action in the style of Metal Gear, cover-based gunplay in the style of Gears of War and hand to hand fighting similar to many 3rd person beat-em-ups.   None of the various elements on their own are very standout, but they work well enough together to give you a variety of (fun) options in completing a level.

Where this game really shines (and shines and shines) is in its story and presentation.  The levels are designed so that big things can happen to you while you play and you’ll still be able to retain full control of your character during the event.  Things that are relegated to cinematics in other games remain fully playable in Uncharted 2.   The story is something because, while it borrows conventions from nearly every action adventure movie in existence, it never felt snooze-inducingly derivative and had enough twists and turns to keep me wanting to play more to see how it progressed.  The writing is well done and the voice acting is head and shoulders above nearly every game I’ve played before.

The easiest way to describe this game would be to call it an interactive cinematic adventure.  Much like a great TV series such as Battlestar Galactica or the first season of Heroes, Uncharted 2 kept me coming back for more.

The next game on deck is Demons Souls.  This game pretty much came out of nowhere and I didn’t even hear about it until the day of its release.  I’m glad I did though because this game is amazing.  From top to bottom this game has been crafted meticulously and it really shows.

Demons Souls is a clumsily titled action RPG that has passing similarities to many games in its genre.  You control your avatar, get loot, level up and slay demons.  What sets this game apart from the rest is its masterfully crafted atmosphere and insane difficulty.  The game is designed in a manner that if you just go in swinging you’ll be dead at the first demon.  Combat feels weighty but never slow and the animations really convey the feeling that swinging a sword is difficult.  You also discover that swinging a sword without getting stabbed in the ribs is also difficult.  And while combat is tough, it’s not unfair, and soon you learn the timing of your weapons as well as all the dark corners where nasty things are hiding to murder you.  Expect to die and die and die, but also expect to have a lot of fun doing it.

The atmosphere is also top-notch.  Environments range from the ramparts and halls of a castle the size of a small city, to claustrophobic mines and creepy asylums as well as several others.  The level designs are well thought out and do a great job of selling the feeling that this is a maximalist interpretation of dark heroic fantasy.  In the levels you rarely meet other humans, even as enemies, and when you do they are corrupted husks or gruffly annoyed with your presence.  This really helps give you a feeling of loneliness as you play.  The game has a quasi online mode where you can see the ghosts of other people who are playing the game at the same time as you, but they fade in and out, lasting only a few moments at a time.   You can’t interact with these ghosts but they are a great addition.

Be warned:  this game is super tough, but the difficulty is very rewarding.  My recommendation?  Play it alone with the lights off.



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