Tag Archives | 360

LA Noire [Review]

“LA Noire was good but it was just..like a movie” – (my friend) Mike.

When I first started seeing the trailers for LA Noire, I couldn’t help getting excited. I was going to be a detective, sniffing out clues in a game with incredible graphics technology.

I’d be a golden era Sherlock Holmes!

Combine all that in an open-world game with a pedigree from Rockstar (ok, technically, LA Noire is from Team Biondi in Australia), which produced other famed open world games like the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series and Red Dead Redemption, and it sounds like another blockbuster game.

But it isn’t. Or at least it wasn’t for me. The potential is there, but for me, it wasn’t quite as revolutionary as I hoped it would be. Perhaps that was unfair of me, but if you watch all of the trailers, that’s what they suggest.

In LA Noire, you’re a 1940’s era police officer named Cole Phelps. You’re a bright Stanford graduate, recently having come back from Japan in World War II. You’re looking to make a name for yourself in the Los Angeles police department, and by solving cases, you will, moving from various departments in your rise to fame, including murder.

The core mechanics of the game involve going to the crime scene, talking to witnesses, and following up on clues to finally break the case and get an arrest. When you’re talking to witnesses, a key (and much advertised) component is the game’s facial tracking graphic technology. Faces are incredibly realistic, allowing you to see subtle changes in facial response, enabling you to separate the liars from the unlucky.

When you’re sifting through crime scenes, you can look through numerous objects to narrow down the relevant clues. Noire’s game world, incredibly detailed, allows you to drive around and gaze into the Los Angeles’ past as well as any fictional time machine. Side missions allow you to chase bad guys, get into gunfights, kick butt in fist fights, and drive criminal cars off the road, all the things you see in the movies. Pow! Bang!

And all this, as I started playing the game, was great. It looks great, it sounds great, and the production values are amazing. The acting is superb, with seemingly the entire cast (except for the Drapers) of Mad Men in the game. The game’s overarching storyline is told through cut-scenes before missions and interactions with other characters during them. While difficult to piece together during the first play, the plot comes together nicely by the end, rewarding replay so you can get a better feel on how everything connects together.

As I got deeper into the game, the limitations in the gameplay made me feel like I wasn’t really dictating the results. Even the storyline creates a disconnect between you and Cole Phelps. By the end, his story seems preset, and you were just there as Mike mentioned, to watch the movie. It’s a movie that only shows part of Phelps’ life, so it’s hard to relate to him, to really envision yourself as him.

The mechanics of finding clues are very simple. In a way, you’re just pressing the interact button randomly around scenes to trigger things. If you have played a point a click adventure game, it feels much like that and finding clues doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. You don’t feel like you’ve done anything special because the environments are so limited in what you can pick up. Sure, you don’t want to have to wade through 100 items – that would be boring. But showing the detective process in this way isn’t satisfying either.

Witness interviews and suspect interrogations suffer from limitations as well. While talking to people, you can decide if they’re 1) telling the truth, if you 2) doubt their statement, or if you 3) have evidence to prove they’re lying. If you think someone is lying, you will present evidence to backup your accusation. With each verdict you make on someone’s statement, you can get more information or get rejected, leading to ramifications for your case. For example, you might miss information to a new lead (which could cause you to close the case on the wrong suspect, or not apprehend anyone at all), or a detail you can use in questioning a different witness later.

The problem comes from the way you decide whether someone is lying, holding information, or lying – the process is too binary. You’re either completely right or wrong, and even if you know if someone might be lying or suspicious and know why, there can be a disconnect with which option you need to choose in the game. You can think someone is withholding information, and pick doubt, but you’ll be wrong. The right answer will be truth, even though it’s then revealed that the person is withholding information. The game’s definition of what happens in each of the 3 options can be very different from your own.

What the game needs is a more natural way for questioning people. Part of the problem is that you don’t have a feel of what Cole is going to say when you pick one of the 3 options. You could be approaching a problem one way and pick “doubt” based on your thoughts, but because Cole approaches it in a different way, you’re wrong. A better approach would be to hint what each dialogue option would be, or maybe show the first line of what Cole is thinking when you’re picking a specific option, a preview of what he would say if you picked that option.

When you judge each character’s statement, the game tells you with an aural cue whether you chose correctly, and this isn’t something that can be disabled. After an interview session, you’ll find out how many correct judgments you made. While this information may be useful, it creates the feel that a successful interview is based on individual questions versus the whole of your effort and preparation. These become reminders that you’re just playing a game, and games are meant to to be uh…. gamed. After playing through the first 5-10 cases, I realized that even though I had a feel of who was guilty or what the problems were, one mistake in a question could fail everything and force me to replay 30 minutes to get back to that point and approach a witness statement differently. That led to me simply quitting anytime I made a mistake and reloading so that I could get through the sessions through trial and error if needed, save time, and maximize my score. Because of that, as I progressed further in the game, I felt a decreasing sense of accomplishment with each case.

That all said….

Bottom Line: LA Noire is a very good game, but the more you play it, the more you may feel how much better this game could be in future iterations in terms of reaching its original promise. Easy to get into, and if you can get into it without worrying about perfect scores all the time you’ll find an addictive, if not deep, game experience.

Background: Played on XBox 360, 32” 1080P HDTV, Stereo Sound, 90% overall (100% story and side mission, no DLC) game completion.

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An Hour with Duke Nukem Forever Means I Have to Write This Review

Duke Nukem in the original 1991 game

Image via Wikipedia

Duke Nukem Forever (DNF) is at currently at 48.13% on Game Rankings http://www.gamerankings.com/xbox360/944794-duke-nukem-forever/index.html.

On Game Rankings, I consider 75% a solid game, and 80% a good game. Games that get 48% are like movies that get 10% on Rotten Tomatoes – there is no amount of fandom that can excuse them. 25-35% movies can be dumb but entertaining, but 10% means you wasted not only the time of people who watched the movie, but also all of those who worked on the movie. Everyone can genuinely feel ashamed.

As Duke himself notes in the game, however, this game’s development took 12 years! That is a lot of shame going around, and yet, though I had seen the reviews, I thought I could ignore them. But they were right. And this is why:

  • DNF looks better in screenshots than it does in reality. The framerate sucks; it’s certainly not a stable 30 fps even in basic encounters.
  • It doesn’t control well, the shooting action isn’t smooth, and it’s not a game that’s easy to play. Aiming, even while standing, even with autoaim, is a tremendous chore. I thought that at worse, Forever would be an exaggerated version of Duke Nukem 3D with simple (old school mechanics) but straightforward gameplay and older graphics. Instead, DNF is incredibly slow to load (and expect loading screens for every 5 minutes of gameplay), hard to control, and filled with time wasting requirements. Why force the player to get 3 energy rods instead of 1 to move on? Why force the player to drive an RC car that’s stuck behind a room when Duke, in theory, should be able to blast it and break it open? Why force the player to press X to open doors (and there are a lot of them) instead of just opening them directly? Because that’s good gameplay, or is it just wasting a player’s time?
  • In Masters of Doom, a book about the start of ID Software and the guys who created Doom / Quake / Rage, one of the things I remember is that John Romero’s game design was based on “That’s cool! Wouldn’t it be great if we put it in the game?” Almost like that was his criteria – cool idea means put it in the game. I’ve wondered if this is why he was never able to replicate his Doom success. What worked for Doom came from 1) great technology 2) but also a simpler, less sophisticated gamer. You could put things in that were cool because the core gameplay was simple. But as gaming become more sophisticated, I think you needed better depth in design, and I wonder if that was Romero’s problem. He was stuck on his checklist of cool when he was doing games like Daikatana, and never had a clear overarching focus on the game. This is also what I feel about Duke Nukem Forever. “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if….Duke had a remote controlled car?” “OK, how do we get him to use it?” “Let’s make a useless and illogical puzzle within the context of the game so he needs to drive it” “Alright!” It doesn’t matter that the remote controller car section was no fun, or that it didn’t make sense in that part of the game, or that it ruined the pace of the action, it sounded cool at one point, so the designers decided to force it in to fit their checklist. (If you’ve played the game, I’m referring to when Duke has to drive the car inside the locked room, not when he’s shunken)
  • DNF suffers in the same way movie sequels (especially comedies) suffer. “Let’s take the parts that people liked in the original and then increase all of those parts so that they lose their charm and become annoying.” For DNF, that comes in:
    • Interacting with objects for no reason. Yes, I guess I can turn on every of faucet, but does it really add to the game to be able to do this? Vending machines, different types of drinks and candies, toilets, etc? What was unique for a game for 1996 doesn’t make it awesome when multiplied by 10 for 2011. I’m not saying that naked women are bad, or that interactive toilets are bad. You just cannot add them blindly without an actual purpose, they cannot serve as core gameplay features. They’re just extra touches that make the game unique, not reasons to play the game.
    • Duke likes to talk and talk and talk. He’s just a big caricature now, instead of the tough guy with witty attitude that he was originally. Quality > Quantity, please.

    Words of Wisdom: You will regret spending time with this game. Do not rent, borrow, or in an anyway insert the game disc into your 360.

    I would much rather have spent $60 to play Duke Nukem 3D than DNF. I got through about 20% of the game, and the unfortunate part is that I was enough of a Duke fan to have continued with the game if the loading had not been such a pain. Playing on the hardest difficulty, I was dying enough in which I just got tired of getting one hit killed or falling into a pit in an accidental death and then having to wait to reload the game.  Even if you’re not dying, loading screens come so often that you can’t get into a pace of steady action to enjoy the game.

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Christmas Shopping, Done

I love Black Friday, even though 1) I don’t live in the US anymore and haven’t been around for one since 2005 2) I never actually went out for any Black Fridays.

I guess I just love shopping online, and the sense of Black Friday, the deals, the insanity, without the craziness (and potential physical harm) of the offline rush.

Shopping this year is a crazy time out. A bad economy means ridiculous deals, but I, making my Vietnamese wages, don’t have so much to spend. If I were in the US however, I’d be loading up on games, clothes, and a HDTV.

Nonetheless, I am still spending a decent amount considering my income- I’ve been saving all year long to bring stuff back on my yearly trip to the US. :) Definitely, on gifts, I don’t have so much planned. Having no friends and a small family means I can be more selfish, but I’ve basically finished all shopping well before the actual holiday.

I’ve listed most of my purchasing below, eliminating the gifts for others in case someone is reading this.

Some of the deals below were seriously very cheap. Consider that most of this stuff was bought not only before Black Friday but before November. All items are new or in like-new condition (eBay!)

That was enabled by Microsoft’s Live Cashback Promotion going on, up to 30% off eBay But it Now purchases (BIN). See http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/hot-deals/838081/ if you’d like to find out more. It’s easy to do once you try it once. It’s a bit of a mail in rebate style of discount, so that may dissuade some, but I’m used to that, being an early user of FatWallet and eBates.

Surely, I’ll be buying a few more items once I get back to the US, but only for the most absolute ridiculous deals that I can bring back to me to Vietnam, so that eliminates big items like Tv’s or laptops or consoles.

Even with all the insane promotions going on, and still to be unveiled, the only thing I feel like I missed out on by purchasing early was the actual XBox 360 system. I think I bought mine in late September when Amazon did a get free Lego Batman when you buy the arcade system. That was essentially $40 I got back once I sold it on eBay, but there have been some much more amazing deals on the 360 recently. There have been good deals on HD DVDs lately, as well, but otherwise, buying early got me some ease of mind and solid pricing.

Purchase List w/ Prices (including shipping and tax):


Other

 
Mcfarlane Halo Master Chief Figure, Series 2 (new) $ 11.90
LG Viewty KU990 (Mobile Phone, new) $ 180.00

Books

 
The Joker $ 11.99
Pistol Pete & Batman, Man Who Laughs $ 15.97

DVD

 
Dark Knight $ -
Battlestar Galactica Razor $ 6.99
Gunnin’ for that # 1 Spot $ 14.50
Indiana Pacers Greatest Games $ 13.49
Year of the Yao $ 5.79

XBox 360

 
XBox 360 Arcade System (new) $ 199.99
GTA IV $ 16.07
Halo 3 $ 22.49
Gears of War $ 12.13
Mass Effect $ 14.00
Bioshock $ 17.11
Viva Pinata Trouble in Paradise $ 13.99
NBA Homecourt $ 5.99
The Darkness $ 8.91
HDMI Cable $ 7.67
Hard Drive $ 38.99
Universal Remote $ –0.00
Play & Charge Kit $ 14.96
FIFA Faceplate $ 8.16
Halo 3 Essentials $ 7.48

360 HD DVD

 
360 HD DVD Drive $ 34.39
Harry Potter Limited Gift Set $ 46.20
Sopranos S6 P2 $ 22.00
Complete Matrix Trilogy $ 31.00
Batman Begins $ 6.00
Bourne Ultimatum $ 7.00
The Prestige $ 15.70
Planet Earth $ 20.00
12 Monkeys $ 7.00
Casino $ 6.00
Corpse Bride $ 6.00
Eternal Sunshine $ 7.00
Out of Sight $ 7.00
Unforgiven $ 10.06
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Irony: There is a Yahoo! Mash Blog

Mash Blog » Private Messaging Revealed

Yahoo! Mash (still in Beta) is a social networking service that, at least for now, doesn’t have a blog feature. Kind of odd for a social networking site, but it’s ok, a blog isn’t everything, the concept of Mash could be freshly fantastic. At the same time, a blog is a proven tool for communications so it is a bit strange that Yahoo! themselves use a blog that’s not part of the Yahoo! Mash service to talk about their service.

I assume that there will be a module, created by themselves or a third party that will allow blogging, because even if they don’t want it to be part of the concept, how will they import old Yahoo! 360 posts into Mash? (again, hoping for super freshly fantastic idea)

PS. There really is a problem if you have to read the official blog to understand how to change your pet’s mood.

Overall, I see home high level concepts with Mash, but not quite sure what they’re going for, or what the service will be like in 6 months. But, that could be what turns out to be awesome about it.

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