Five New Games

The List took a real battering this week: five new games. Five. Well, six really, if you take into account the PC version of Space Giraffe that I snaffled… and, since Rez appears on The List three times for three different platforms, it seems only fair that the Giraffe gets another airing.

Oops.

That unplanned acquisition was, of course, due to the superlative double-bundle currently offered by Llamasoft to celebrate the release of GridRunner Revolution. I excitedly downloaded GRR on Friday night, a painful eight hours after its release (after an unexpected day at work), and… well, to say I was underwhelmed is a bit of an understatement. Is it pretty? Oh yes. Does it sound good? Hell yes – no-one does deep chest-thunking sound effects quite like Minter. But the problem was that there was no excitement in the gameplay; I was rarely troubled at all in the first fifty(!) levels I played. No pressure to perform, no seat-of-your-pants thrills. And that made me well and truly glum. After all, it was love-at-first-sight with Space Giraffe: I could tell straight away that she and I had a connection. GRR, on the other hand, was like the doting girlfriend with puppy-dog eyes, willing to conform to your every whim without offering anything in return. No challenge. No personality. No spark. And, dare I say it, a little boring.

Then I start on the third set of levels (the levels are arranged, in order of difficulty, into collections of Korma, Madras, Vindaloo, and Phaal)… and initially, apart from a bit of a speed bump, it seemed like more of the same. But after another twenty levels, the difficulty actually started going up a notch, and there was a bit of a fight going on. Unlocking the final difficulty level has further piqued interest, but my first (and only) bash on Phaal saw me pummel my way through just over half of the fifty levels.

GRR is most similar to GR++, returning to the fluid mouse control. But the SuperZapper smart-bomb – previously triggered by the mouse button – has disappeared, replaced instead by a rotate mechanic that allows you to send a stream of bullets in any direction you choose. The XY Zapper also seems to have been left out, but the new inclusions – a plethora of subtly different gridrunners, barriers that hem your bullets in and, most importantly, black holes and suns that can be used to bend your streams of bullets – are really neat gameplay mechanics.

But here’s the thing: when GR++ introduced the Sheepie Save (a technique where the player could resurrect their life if they could guide their falling carcass onto the sheepie bonus token), it felt astoundingly fresh. That simple mechanic, and the strategies that bloomed around it (do you take the sheepie for the power-up, or leave it as a safety net?), made GR++ a truly unique experience. GRR maintains the Sheepie Save and tries to improve upon it, allowing the player to continue killing adversaries in the hope of triggering a sheepie to Save them; but all this encouraged me to do was scrub the screen as fast as I could after hearing my death; if I managed to trigger another sheepie, then I was fine. If not… well, the levels don’t reset with death, so it’s a war of attrition.

This is awfully hard for me to write, really; I’m a big fan of Minter’s work, and there’s no denying his unique (and ungulated) take on videogaming. But after the well-weighted and sensual success of Space Giraffe I was expecting massive things from GridRunner Revolution, and… well, I don’t think it’s delivered. It’s not that it’s bad, just… it’s not great. Perfectly competent entertainment if you like bright flashy things and not much challenge.

Let’s put it this way: you really should go buy GR++ now. And as for GRR… well, it’s only US$20 (or US$25 with the superlative Space Giraffe), so you’d be mad not to pick up that double bundle – if only to experience the technicolour mind of Minter. After all, I rate Space Giraffe as one of the best shooters this decade, and GRR is awfully pretty.

Blimey! What a lot of words.

“But wait, Pete!” I hear no-one exclaim; “what about all those other games you picked up this week? Surely you can squeeze out a few words on them as well?”

Well, yes I can.

Monday saw the deliver of one of the Wii’s few M-rated games to my door: MadWorld. Previews videos of this game had me salivating in anticipation, with gloriously rendered black-and-white graphics violently splashed with blood in a Smash TV-esque gameshow of brutality. And it certainly delivers in that regard; despite the monochromatic colouring, the graphics are clean and crisp, and the audio is great. But even after just one level, it’s all feeling mighty samey and not all that inspiring, with woolly controls and a nagging feeling that it’s not quite baked. Luckily, it seems to be a short game, so hopefully I’ll be able to churn through it in quick order.

Tuesday, of course, saw the release of Halo 3: ODST. And let me be quite blunt here: I fucking love ODST. I love the storytelling, I love the snippets of action, I love the voice acting, and I love being back in the Halo universe. It really feels like a paean to all that makes Halo memorable; there’s Warthog runs, Scorpion assaults, Banshee raids, and wars of attrition, each a tiny little vignette in the ODST storyline, each an utterly fulfilling experience. And that’s just on Normal!

And then there’s Firefight. Now, I’ve not played Gears of War 2 or its Horde mode, so it may well be the case that Bungie have ripped Epic off mightily in terms of game style. But you know what? I don’t care, because Firefight is bloody amazing. Playing with three Melbourne mates one weeknight, we managed to hold out for five sets of pain, including one where I had to finish the set off solo, with no ammo of any kind, being chased by half-a-dozen Brutes wielding gravity hammers and fuel-rod guns, with the Black Eye skull enabled, dead team-mates watching remote to tell me when a hammer lunge was coming. Such tension I’ve not experienced since trying to no-collision Island Circle R :)

But the week’s not over yet! Also delivered was We Ski… and it’s bloody fantastic. Somehow this cutesy graphics engine, combined with some intuitive motion controls with the Wiimote & nunchuck, manages to create an absolutely convincing sensation of skiing. The first time I found an ice patch on the shady side of a mountain I panicked, flattening my skis in terror; the first time I hit the powder trail I yelped in delight, then started carving trails. It’s simple, it’s bound to be short, and I’m sure there’s some frustration in store – but I’m utterly chuffed that I took a chance and picked this up.

And that’s it! Hopefully this week will yield lots more Firefighting, and maybe a Legendary run… so much to do, so little time.

10 thoughts on “Five New Games”

  1. Haha, I love the little nod to Ridge Racer 6, it brings back a few memories. ;)

    I can’t speak for most of the games here so this comment won’t be all that great, but that’s something you’re used to so I’m sure you can handle it.

    MadWorld has been on my list for a while now, even before my purchase of the Wii a few months ago. I’m not necessarily interested in it for what it is, but, in a strange manner, I kind of feel compelled to support what Sega has been doing with mature titles regardless of how they sell, or the perception(s) gained from their releases. I don’t know, I guess I like supporting the underdog, which may explain why I picked up a cheap copy of Okami for the Wii despite already owning it on the PS2. Of course, going through with that compulsion and picking up all the ‘mature’ titles on the Wii involves purchasing some not so good games too, such as The Conduit which I hear is fairly mediocre. We’ll see what happens then, I guess, but yeah, MadWorld is definitely the most intriguing of the lot.

    As for Halo 3: ODST, I want the game, of course — it’s a different take on a familiar universe with an absolutely sublime voice-over cast and it attempts something different with the way it conveys its story — but, I fear it won’t be entering into my pile for a while. After last year’s overwhelming additions (which I can’t seem to stop going on about — maybe because I am still feeling the repercussions of it all), I made the conscious decision this year to really cut back with what I plan to purchase. I plan to only get 3 games this year and then play catch up over the course of next year — itself a year that will be incredibly packed with titles — meaning that ODST gets neglected in the meantime. One day, then.

  2. Three games this year? Didn’t you get a Wii and a PS3 this year? How’re you managing to keep the purchasing down to three, then?

    Unless, of course, you meant three games for the 360 – whereupon I may be able to equal that (taking into account the fact that Prince of Persia was bought for me ;)

  3. No, I meant 3 games in the holiday season rush of titles. So in other words, in the next few months. I’ve already purchased well over 10-15 games this year…

    I got the PS3 late last year and the Wii a few months back.

  4. Ah, righto. I’m free-and-clear to the end of the year now, I reckon; except for Brütal Legend, of course. And Spirit Tracks will make thirteen. Plus the iPhone games that I’m trying to keep off The List.

    So: what are the three, then? I’m guessing Uncharted 2, Metroid Prime: Trilogy, and… NFS: Shift? :)

  5. You got one correct in the Metroid Prime: Trilogy; the other two are Forza Motorsport 3 and Assassin’s Creed II. I, of course, would like to buy much more than that this year including every other game you just mentioned, but as I mentioned before I made the conscious decision to hold off in favour of working through the backlog and not overwhelming myself like I did last year. I figure that the three chosen will offer me different enough experiences to tide me over in the meantime and that everything else can be played when I get to them. That said, I would not be against a few more titles entering my collection because of my birthday next month…

    I’m currently playing Super Mario Galaxy which is a relatively big game to complete, whilst also still working on the likes of Fallout 3 and the original Uncharted, so when you add the hours necessary for those it builds up fairly quickly. And that’s not including everything I’m still yet to play…

    But hey, this is your blog not mine. Enough about me. I got my own corner of the internets for that. ;)

  6. Nice write-up on Gridrunner there. Too bad you haven’t enjoyed it so much yet, I’m absolutely loving it so far.

    You must be pretty great at shooters if you aren’t finding challenge on Vindaloo or Phaal mode though. I’d suggest playing to the end of those if you haven’t already. Plus, one of the biggest challenges seems to come from trying to get high scores. What kind of scores are you getting so far?

    Also, I’d highly suggest playing survival mode. It has level progression like the other modes, but is tough as nuts and fun.

    Anyways, cheers

  7. @ Steven: Forza! Completely forgot about that, sorry :)

    Super Mario Galaxy isn’t really that difficult to 100% – it took me a couple of weeks, but that did include a 14-hour day hammering through half of Luigi’s levels. Great game, good times :)

  8. @ Joel: thanks for the comment :)

    I’m not particularly good at shooters (check my 360 gamercard; my Geometry Wars performance in particular is a source of much chagrin), but I did click with Space Giraffe. That was my high-score game of choice; GRR doesn’t attract me in the same way. It sure is fun making pretty bullet patterns, though :)

    And, rest assured, I’ll be pushing through to the end of Phaal; but so far, the only sticking point has been one level in the mid-30s on Vindaloo. Endurance mode sounds interesting (though Thrusty mode is a little obtuse), so there’s still a fair bit left in there that may impress. But, to date, I still far prefer GR++.

  9. @ Pete: no prob
    ya, I’ve been playing through quite a bit the last few days. I definitely see what you’re saying in regards to it being as challenging as assumed. It doesn’t seem to be ramping up as fast on Phaal, as I thought it would (on lvl 33 so far/ 45 Vindaloo), but ya love playing with the bullet patterns. I think I die most because I focus on trying to get cool patterns and high multiplyer, then get pegged by some enemy. But even getting to level 50 on Korma and Madras had its road bumps for me.

    Overall, definitely breezing through at a decent pace. To be honest, I’m actually enjoying that its not kick you in the balls tough, I get enough stress from work, so its a bit of relaxing insanity. Definitely up there with SG and GR++ for me. Let me know what you think of Endurance mode though, I’m digging hopping in there once in a while. Agree with thrust too, a bit awkward for my tastes, might give it another go though.

  10. @ Joel: Well, I’ve finally found a tricky spot: Level 48, feeding onto 49, of Phaal. Not frustrating yet (nowhere near the annoyance quotient of, say, Level 64 of T2K), but just hard enough to make it interesting. Hurrah! :)

    You said you were a fan of Space Giraffe; PC or 360?

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