It’s been a long time, comrades! Having just recently pried the Lady Penguatroll (she took a nap) from the computer since we got the Internets back, I am now able to post.
— I’ve finally reached complete catharsis. Long time readers may remember my earlier column on LeBron. However, I could not help being enraged when he did leave. All in all, I’m somewhat pleased he didn’t leave for more money, which often happens with Cleveland sports heroes (see Thome, Jim), since the Cavs could offer him the most money, if I understand the NBA system correctly. Bosh, D-Wade, and LeBron on the same team will either win another championship for the Heat or be a complete disaster. This should be the ultimate test case for team chemistry — I don’t know that there have ever been three All-Star level players on the same team, and all in their prime.
— We cancelled our cable (after it first cancelled us), but I think we can still get most of our shows through Hulu. It may mean no Monday Night RAW, but until the Lady Penguatroll gets a job, that’s just what we’ll have to deal with.
— A Wii is finally on my list of things to purchase. I’ve never owned two consoles concurrently, but the chance to catch up on the Nintendo games I missed (the last console I owned was an NES, I did play most of the games I wanted to on an SNES emulator) and relive my favorites. This will probably be a Christmas-type item, unless I get a good chunk o’ cash between now and then.
The Reviews! Two for the Price of One!
These will be a bit shorter than normal and more free form — I’ll sum up my points at the end of each one and go a little more into plot (where appropriate).
Madden 11 (PS 3)
I have been a fan of the Madden series for years. I have often worried about the quality of the games from year to year, but usually end up having worried in vain. This year was no different, and with the same result.
I keep saying that each Madden is the best one yet (since Madden 09, anyway), and again, 11 is no exception. There were two major new features this year (one they advertised and one they didn’t) and both work very well.
First, we have Gameflow. Gameflow is like a super-powered Ask Madden, but with user input through the Gameplan, which lets you weight plays for each situation, delete some, and add others. The game then calls the appropriate plays at the appropriate times. It greatly picks up the pace of games while simultaneously making the game flow more smoothly.
Second, Auto-Sprint. This is such a great idea that I can’t imagine why they never did it before. The CPU is pretty good at picking when to sprint, so you can focus on evading enemy tacklers, finding holes, and so forth. This is even better than Gameflow.
The addition of Gus Johnson makes each individual game much more exciting, just because he’s in it. It’s very noticeable during the pre and post Super Bowl packages, and EA really makes it feel special now. The game has a little story for each team (it may or may not change on subsequent Super Bowls) and its history with the Super Bowl. In fact, it specifically mentioned I had erased The Drive and The Fumble and brought glory to Cleveland, which was totally sweet.
Franchise mode is about the same, which was disappointing. They did fix rookie contracts — they’re no longer completely out of whack and you won’t pay $12 million a year to a rookie running back, no matter how good. Good coaches are harder to find, another welcome development. I still can’t fire coaches in mid-season, but I’ll probably never see that fixed.
My only complaints are relatively minor. I DESPISE the new strategy pad. It’s nice having everything in one place, but I call a lot of audibles and hot routes and it’s simply impossible on defense. There’s just no time to react, since I also have to waste time remembering how to do things. It’s not as bad for offense, since you control the snap, but it drives me nuts on defense.
The pump fake button is not very responsive on the PS 3. Sometimes I have to push it twice to get it to work. Pass rushing finally seems to be fixed, but I still generally have poor sack numbers. It may be because I have one good D-lineman and a bunch of crap.
The Extra Point is completely worthless now. It’s identical to last year, down to the wrong sponsor (Sprint instead of Verizon… oops…). I miss EA Sports Radio and the Newspapers.
On the whole, another great product from EA. I know some people think the NFL license has killed football games. I do acknowledge some minor flaws, but for the most part EA has done a solid job with making sure that each game is better, if not radically so.
— Still the best football game on the market.
— Gameflow and Auto-Sprint make each game drastically better and smoother.
— Best graphics and music yet (Crazy Train FTW!)
— Extra Point is moronic.
— Franchise mode relatively untouched.
— I still want to make examples of coaches and fire them indiscriminately.
Red Dead Redemption (PS 3)
GTA with horses. I do not mean this as an insult — not at all. But this is just the best short hand description of the game for the casual reader.
You play John Marston, a reformed (?) outlaw who is forced to hunt down his old gang mates by the government. The government is holding his family hostage until he does. Carnage ensues.
The game takes place in New Austin (NOT Texas) and later on, Mexico. It takes place before WWI, and the game stays very true to this earlier period. The dress is all spot on, as are the weapons. Travelling by horse is easy and fun, and a waypoint system will let you skip particularly long journeys by camping or taking a stage coach.
The missions advance the story nicely. As usual for a Rockstar game, there are plenty of interesting characters, from a grave robber to a snake oil salesman to Mexican revolutionaries. Most missions feel unique, and none are overly repetitive. Stealing a train from the Mexican Army is glorious, and makes use of a stealth mechanic that is sadly underused throughout the rest of the game.
However, the missions are by no means the only thing to do. There are TONS of side missions, including horse breaking, blackjack, Texas Hold ‘Em, Liar’s Dice, night watch jobs, and a version of GTA IV’s friends mechanic. At certain points, a ? will appear on your map. These people have mini-missions for you, generally much simpler and sometimes offering real options to improve (or detract from) your honor. Some of them are really heartwarming, others creepy, still others very profitable.
The Honor System really helps make the game interesting. You can be a son of a bitch or a kind and gentle soul, and townsfolk will react accordingly. The law isn’t a huge threat (at least for a nice guy like me), but the bounty system replaces the old “if you die or get arrested, you lose everything.” If you’re killed, you have almost no repercussions except for failing whatever mission you were on. Getting arrested is more tricky. Each crime determines a bounty — as you get more famous or honorable, some crimes are cheaper. You can either pay your bounty off ahead of time or use a pardon letter to cancel them all. These bounties are cumulative until you get arrested. If you get arrested and can’t pay your bounty, they take all of your money.
Money is very dear in the game, and sticks roughly to the prices of the time, $750 for the best horse in the game, for example. I’m also a gambler, so it may just be me. Bounty hunting missions can be very lucrative, especially if you capture your victims alive. The later in the game, the more valuable they become, which let you buy better weapons and other stuff.
The dominant mechanic is “Dead Eye.” If you’ve played Gun (which called it Quick Draw) or Max Payne (Bullet Time), you can probably guess what is it. Everything slows down, giving you time to make impossible Wild West style shots (shooting through the rope of a victim being hanged, shooting a man’s hat off). Later on, you can mark multiple victims, and kill five or more people with one round of Dead Eye. You can purchase various goods to restore your Dead Eye, which naturally regenerates over time and with non-Dead Eye kills.
The weapons are very well done. I prefer the rifle, but you have standard six shooters in a variety of flavors, shotguns, a sniper rifle, dynamite, and a lasso. Lassoes in particular are useful for capturing live criminals, breaking horses, and are required for some missions. Your horse is perhaps the most dangerous weapon of all, and you’ll spend A LOT of time on horseback.
Horse riding is straightforward — hold X to keep a constant speed (great with companions around) or tap X to increase it over time, at the cost of the horse’s stamina. Too much stamina drainage and you get bucked off. You can use items to replenish it, but monitoring it is often the best solution.
Each region is very different. The game’s one major city, Blackwater, is unavailable until the end. Most of the towns you visit have a unique and distinct feel, from Armadillo to Thieves’ Landing to various towns in Mexico. Most citizens have names, although you only hear them during poker or in specific missions. Dialogue is occasionally repetitive, but usually entertaining.
The music is appropriately epic, as befits a Western. I think Gun’s is better, particularly the opening theme, but again each region has different music as well. The sound is very well done — no major stars signed on for this game, but all the actors are appropriate for their roles. Red Dead Redemption has a bit more gritty feel than GTA and is much more real. The tongue in cheek humor is there, but it’s not a highlight of the game. Marston clearly has a conscience, unlike Tommy Vercetti in GTA Vice City, for example.
The only drawbacks are a few glitches. In one mission, you need to burn a small boat, but the docks seem to be covered ice, causing a lot of slippage and death. Horses can often be stupid when you whistle for them — sometimes they ignore you altogether and other times they run into walls over and over again (the first may be intentional, but the second is not). The AI is not especially impressive until late in the game, and even then you’ll rarely die from bullet wounds in most missions.
If you like sandbox type games, Red Dead Redemption is a perfect fit. The story is engaging, much more so than some earlier Rockstar games (I’m looking at you, GTA 3). It’s a bit more serious than earlier entries, so this may deter some gamers, but the controls are all very intuitive and responsive, making it a must buy.
— HUGE world, plenty to do.
— Rich and well developed story and characters.
— Very authentic feel for pre-WWI.
— Dumb AI.
— A bit too easy at times.
— Not as light-hearted as earlier Rockstar games.