December 2007


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Last week, I started playing Mass Effect. After 16 recorded hours of gameplay (the played hours is more, due to loads) I can say, without hyperbole, that this is one of the best games I have ever played.

I’m not really big on RPG’s. I tried the demo of “Two Worlds” and played a bit of “Oblivion IV”, but neither of those really drew me in. For one thing, the controls were strange for me and the game didn’t bother to explain much. Most of the time I had no idea what I was doing in the inventory or character page, I was just pushing buttons. Mass Effect actually bothers to provide helpful summaries of what controls do in each of the dialog boxes, which seriously lowers the learning curve. Next thing is story: the above-mentioned RPGs are medieval-type fantasy, Mass Effect is sci-fi. One story appeals to me a hell of a lot more than the other. (I did just start reading “Fleet of Worlds”, a new book set in the Known Space universe, so the concepts of FTL travel, megastructures, alien ambassadors and galaxy-wide conflicts are already on my mind.)

That being said, what do I love about the RPG aspect of Mass Effect? Oh, where to start. The leveling-up system is intuitive, descriptive (giving me basic information on gaining new abilities, understanding what an increased level actually means, etc.) and really fun. It’s a most-welcome flashback to the days of D&D, gaining points to use on abilities and increasing my killin’ powers. Also, the conversation design is great: I choose the overall theme of what my character should say and he says it with all the flair and relevant details. The designers have also kept in mind the fact that (a) not everyone is interested in the back-story and (b) if you’re playing the game a second or a third time, you’ll probably skip the introductory course on the Geth and would simply like to get the plot moving along. For this reason, the conversations are split up into two parts, the investigation and the action: the investigation is optional and provides information without affecting the outcome or limiting your options, while the action drives the plot forward.

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There are also a number of non-RPG-specific elements that make Mass Effect an amazing game.

First off, the story. I’ve already said that I like sci-fi stories, but this one happens to be a deep and wonderfully detailed plot, something that looks like a tremendous effort. I recenlty found myself spending something like 4-5 hours on a single planetary mission that involved smuggling, espionage, greasing political wheels, gun-battles, a science-experiment gone wrong, alien infestation… You see where I’m going with this, right? The story is the strongest part of the package, being both incredibly large and encompassing, but also personal and engaging.

Second, there’s the battle system. You can actually pause the action, decide what weapon or power to use, aim, unpause and fire. I’m used to aiming with a mouse, not a control stick, which puts me at a serious disadvantage when playing console-based shooters, but with this game, that’s a non-issue. I can also order my squad around like in other games (GRAW2 springs to mind), but I rarely have to micromanage: the AI is well-designed to be more helpful than not.

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The weapons system is very good, owing to its simplicity: you have four weapons (pistol, shotgun, rifle, sniper rifle) and grenades. Instead of loading up on an ass-load of different weapons, there are (a) dozens of weapons and ammo mods that modify the by-the-numbers characteristics of your favorite instruments of death and (b) various skills that modify weapon behavior (the shotgun “carnage” skill transforms the standard shot into an explosive volley capable of taking out multiple enemies at once).

This simplicity also expands to the rest of the inventory: you have one armor suit which can have one update installed at a time; there are tech tools, biotics amps, etc. that can be upgraded either by using a different tool or through mods. The point here is that there are less items to be modified and more modifications to be applied, something that significantly simplifies gameplay, at least for me.

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The biotics (something like telepathy) have me hooked: I love using “lift” on a group of enemies to float them a few meters off the ground, incapacitating the whole lot and making them easy targets. I’m also fond of the “throw” ability that does just that, tosses the enemies around like a stuffed animal. If you develop “throw” enough, or if the enemy is particularly weak, a single dose can kill them. That being said, I’ve still to figure out how “warp” works. It doesn’t have the visual “confirmation” that both “lift” and “throw” posses, so I can’t really tell if it’s working or not.

I’m not sure how I forgot to mention this, but the graphics are amazing. This is bleeding-edge stuff that’s just popping off the screen. The humans look pretty damn good. Not yet up to the movie-CGI quality, but very close. The facial expressions are a work of art, complimenting and completing the illusion during the game’s many “talking heads”-dialog moments. The aliens look… real. I mean, I’m not sure if there’s another word for it. The aliens you meet have distinct features and small imperfections that add to the realism. Take a look at the turians, they are some of the best-modeled creatures in the game. The various environments in the game also deserve a second look: Citadel’s super-structure cross urban park is breathtaking, Eden is a corpse-strewn paradise, Noveria provides us with a captivating frozen world not unlike Hoth. There’s even a mission on the Moon, but so far the visuals are nothing to write home about.

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I think that’s about it for this review, I’ll consider doing one after I finish the game. Of course, at that point I’ll be starting it over, playing as a completely different character (class, sex, appearance, mindset, etc.), but I’ll try to contemplate about writing up a review of sorts.

 

 

 

Much thanks to the Atheist mailing list for this little gem.

Yesterday after work I heard Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind”. Now that’s good music. See for yourself.

Sure, the Kansas video is quite dated, in terms of haircuts, production, studio fog, the lead singer just standing there for the whole video, etc. But at least it’s not ash people.

Videos after the jump.

(more…)

As seen on the Microsoft official Lolcat discussion list:

A blonde was weed-eating her yard and accidentally cut off the tail of her cat which was hiding in the grass. She rushed her cat, along with the tail over to Wal-Mart!

Why Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world.

It seems I’m missing all the news. I was aware of the fact that “Futurama” is coming back in 2008*, but I had no idea that the DVD, “Bender’s Big Score”, was already out. It’s out. Right now. Sitting in stores. Waiting to be picked up and watched.

Don’t expect to see me on campus after 6pm today.

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*This is most welcome news, especially considering that Seymour, Fry’s dog, is going to be back. I hope that his return will repair that damage the producers have caused to my heart with the episode “Jurassic Bark”, the episode of “Futurama” that I have unfortunately watched twice and will never watch again.

Just caught a semi-old news story about the upcoming 360 Update on Kotaku: DivX support is coming to the 360!

Most of the Kotaku video is pretty bland an uninteresting, but at about the 8:35 mark the narrator drops the bomb:

So, now, the last real major update they’ve done is something that most people are going to be very excited about is: they’ve added DivX support, or MPEG-4 support, which means that you’ll be able to play all your DivX and XVid wrapped files on your Xbox 360. You can watch your hard-code pornography and your pirated television shows easier than ever before on your Xbox 360.

Oh, this is just too good. And it’s not even Christmas yet!

Can’t wait to rewatch the first two seasons of “Gargoyles” again (season three does not exist, it is a figment of your imagination) and finish watching “Duck Tales”.