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Currently Playing: Week 6

Now that I have a game review on my plate, I no longer have the free time on the weeknights to catch up on my backlog of games. For those of you wondering what game I am playing, I won’t be able to talk about it until mid-August. Take that as your hint.

I did devote most of my weekend to gaming. As always, I turned on my Xbox 360 with a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish on Saturday, and ended up playing a variety of games I didn’t expect.

Here’s what I played:


Ghost Recon: Future Soldier – Xbox 360


If you asked me what this game’s plot was, the best answer I could give is “it involves futuristic technology and bad guys.” My eyes glaze over when story sequences flash onto screen. With that said, the new levels I ventured into over the weekend were fantastic. I stealthily maneuvered through a sprawling airport, and used a robot called the “Warhound” to blow the living hell out of a Hoth-like environment. The Warhound’s controls are brilliantly tied to standard movement. I’m still controlling my character, but rather than firing guns, my fury comes from the robot positioned behind him. The further I go, the more I’m enjoying this game. I’ll hopefully complete it next Saturday.


Resident Evil 5 – Xbox 360

A friend of mine and I are venturing back into this co-op experience. My plan is finish this game up for a second time before Resident Evil 6 hits. We’re having a blast with it. My horrible memory can’t seem to recall most of this game. It’s almost like I’m playing it for the first time! Yay?


MLB 12: The Show – Vita

Kelly, my loving wife, holds a True Blood party every Sunday night. During this time, my console machines cannot be played. With my Cubs playing great baseball of late, I had baseball on the mind, and decided to dive back into my Road to the Show career. My flamethrower of a hurler is making his way through Triple A with a fantastic 12 and 5 record with an ERA of 2.45. I should be getting the call up to The Show any day now.


Jurassic Park Builder
 – iPhone

Now that I’m done with Fieldrunners 2, Ben Hanson's blog convinced me that I should be building my own dinosaur zoo. Jurassic Park Builder is a fun simulator until it wants you to either A) wait around, or B) spend real money. I know a lot of people love the Tiny Tower-like experiences that phones offer, but I rarely feel satisfied after only putting in a few minutes into a game. Let me play it!


Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD – Xbox 360

Given how much I loved this series back in the day, I thought I might like revisiting it. I put 20 minutes into it this weekend, and couldn't get the hang of it. It doesn't feel like the same game. I don't know if the physics are off or what, but I just can't get the hang of it again. The only thing it's delivered so far is frustration.

Week 5: From my perspective, August 14 marks the start of video games' busy holiday season. This day brings the launch of Sleeping Dogs and Darksiders II – two under-the-radar games I've been looking forward to playing since their announcements. Moving forward from this day, a high profile game releases almost every week until the end of November.

The "take a deep breath" realization attached to this day: Little time is left to complete the big releases from earlier in the year. For me, this stack of "must-play" 2012 games consists of Dragon’s Dogma, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and a handful of downloadable and mobile games. These next few weeks are also the last gasp for me to try to shorten my “catch-up pile” from previous years.

I didn’t make any significant dents into either of these piles, but I did peck away at several games in both. Here’s what I played last weekend:




Ghost Recon: Future Soldier – Xbox 360

When Matt Bertz reviewed this title for Game Informer, I was one of his co-op lackeys. During this time, I pumped a few hours into the campaign, and sunk a fair amount of time into Survival mode. I jumped back into the game this weekend, making it no further than the point I left off before. Is this spot the kiss of death for me? We’ll see. The stealth technology and cooperative tactics are beautifully designed. The conflict isn't pulling me in, however.


Alice: Madness Returns – Xbox 360


Since I’m nearing a miraculous 200,000 gamerscore (I expect applause), I decided to play this game on the hardest difficulty setting to earn another 150 points. Big mistake. Almost every combat scenario is a soul-crushing process of repetition requiring perfect timing for every evasive maneuver, and retreat whenever enemies are in groups. I played on this brutal setting for a few hours. After roaring audibly – a sound that made my wife yell "are you okay" from upstairs – I decided to bump the difficulty down to “normal.” I'm flying through the game now. The kicker: I'm not enjoying it as much as I did on the harder difficulty setting. The challenge gave the game some semblance of a soul. With the scare of imminent death gone, the combat scenarios don’t hold much excitement. Right now I'm debating if I should crank the difficulty back up to get some enjoyment out of it, or fly through the remaining stages as quickly as I can to be done with it once and for all.


Fieldrunners 2 – iPhone


If I show up to work with dark rings under my eyes, odds are I played Fieldrunners 2 far too late into the night. My plan of “I’ll complete just one map” is often adhered to, but that map may take hours to complete. Tower defense doesn’t get much better than this, folks. The feeling of repetition that often accompanies this genre is nowhere to be found. Subatomic Studios loaded this game up with variety. No two maps are truly alike. My only complaint so far: I hate having to zoom in on the map. I wouldn’t mind seeing an Xbox Live or PlayStation Network port. A nice HD TV would do away with this problem.


Disney Universe – Xbox 360


After weeks of short gaming sessions, Kelly and I finally are free from the Disney Universe. The completion of the final stage brought about a collective sigh. The game doesn’t deliver a final boss fight (although an annoying villain taunts you from start to finish). The reward at the end: A horrible concert featuring a rock version of the song “It’s a Small World.” UGH! My score: 6 out of 10

Week 4: The epic war of “Reiner versus a lawn” took a dramatic turn this weekend. I discovered a material called “mulch,” which is apparently a mixture of wood and animal sediment. Mulch is kind of like napalm. I piled this stuff on top of all of the weeds along the house. Problem solved. My house now looks like it is surrounded by Martian red rock. Here’s hoping the weeds underneath it suffocate and die. I don’t know how high you can pile mulch, but I’ll do what I have to. My victory against the lawn freed up a fair amount of game time. Here’s what I played:


Dragon’s Dogma

My goal is to complete every quest. When I logged in this weekend, I noticed that Capcom released episode eight of the From a Different Sky DLC. The development team has promised a total of 10 episodes, one releasing each week.  That means all of the quests in the game will be available in two weeks' time. With this in mind, I completed a few quests (totaling two to three hours of play time) and decided I would wait until all of the content is available before I dive headfirst into this game again. Smart move?


The Walking Dead: Episode II

What’s in the barn? Why are these farmers being so nice to these strangers? I won’t spoil any of the surprises, but I will say that this episode is a slickly penned tale of terror. Unnerving tension accompanies many of the big moments. Depending on how you handle situations, you could walk out of this episode with your humanity intact, or as a monster that may be worse than the zombies. This episode turns this series into a must-play for all horror fans.


Brave: The Video Game

Kelly and I played a little more of Disney Universe this weekend, but have also found Pixar’s Brave to be a decent co-op experience. The Robotron-like controls work well for the Merida’s long-range bow and arrow action, and player two’s close-range melee attacks keep the monsters at bay. We’re playing it on the highest difficulty setting and are running into a nice challenge. The game is also spitting out achievement points at a satisfying rate. We estimate we’ll end up with around 900 by the end of the game.


Amazing Alex

Rovio’s love of physics-based puzzles continues in Amazing Alex. Unlike Angry Birds, however, I’m not having that much fun. It’s more like Meh Mike. Launching birds at poorly constructed structures is more entertaining than knocking a soccer ball into a laundry bin. I plan to play the entire game, but the theme and setting just aren’t doing it for me.


Men in Black: Alien Crisis

After revealing to the world that I foolishly purchased Activision’s Men in Black: Alien Crisis, many Game Informer readers begged me to complete the game so I could write a review for it. Well, with this goal in mind, a friend of mine and I played through more of it this weekend. We reached a plant boss that repeatedly one-hit killed us. After five or six attempts we decided to hang it up for the night and watch HBO’s hysterical Veep.


Zuma's Revenge

I played this game for review, and enjoyed blowing up marbles for a second time, despite the noticeable loss of difficulty. When I'm looking for a game that offers a unique experience, PopCap's library always seems to scratch that itch.


Transformers: ReGeneration One

I grew up reading Marvel Comics' Transformers series. I know a lot of people say that the Generation One television series is the best Transformers lore out there, but I think this comic series crushes it. The Megatron and Ratchet "coming together" moment is as good as it gets. After a 20 year wait, this story is continuing in a new IDW Publishing series. Simon Furman, who wrote the final 24 issues of Marvel's series, is at the helm. The first issue hit store shelves last Wednesday, and is a fantastic read. The reveal in the last few pages is a shocker. I can't wait to see where this tale goes. If you didn't read the Marvel Comics run, don't bother with this book until you do so. It doesn't skip a beat in picking up where it left off all those years ago.


Week 3: When Kelly and I purchased our house a few years ago, the yard was a massive sea of green perfection. After years of neglect, it now doubles as a weed garden. Being the lazy bum that I always aspired to be, I refused to do anything about the lawn problem until my neighbors said something about it. Don't think poorly of them. They had the right to speak up. My yard looks awful, and is the source of disease. My weeds are popping up all across the neighborhood. You probably know where I'm going with this story. I spent most of my weekend pulling up dandelions, thorny monstrosities, and an underground root system that apparently feeds all of the evil growth. My game time took a major hit. I did manage to complete Spec Ops: The Line, but didn't have the chance to jump back into Dragon's Dogma, or venture into Resonance for the first time. The bad news: I still have three days of lawn work ahead of me. Never procrastinate lawn work! You'll pay for it later.


Spec Ops: The Line
– Xbox 360
Do yourself a favor: Crank the game up to the “Suicide Mission” difficulty setting. I wasn’t enjoying the game’s by-the-numbers combat scenarios until I made them a challenge. Suicide Mission delivers a nice intensity, not to mention the need to lean on useful teammate tactics such as the flash-bang command. I also found that I could draw fire away from my location by telling my teammates to target different foes. Enemies read and react to their movement.

I was forced to make a few difficult moral choices along the way, but Spec Ops’ story really didn’t do much for me, especially with the final act unraveling and becoming an unbelievable stretch. The draw for me is the Dubai setting. Most of the interiors are lavishly detailed with golden statues, beautiful aquariums, and signs that the rich once lived like kings here. As the eye pans across these awe-inspiring sights, devastation and the effect the harsh climate has had on them is usually present. I wouldn’t say Spec Ops is a must-play game, but it is engaging from start to finish, and it does bring you into a world you haven’t experienced before. My score: 8 out of 10.


Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure
– 3DS
The back of the box reads: “Raphael has a secret identity as Phantom R, a thief famous for stealing art and returning it without explanation. Will his life as a burglar help him unlock the secrets of his mysterious past or will his exploits end in capture?” Avoiding capture either means dancing or rhythmically timing stylus swipes to evade police. With a smartly written story, gorgeous animated sequences, a great variety in the music-based gameplay scenarios, and a hilarious dog sidekick, Rhythm Thief is a real treat so far. Think Professor Layton meets Space Channel 5.


Subway Surf
– iPhone
I’m a sucker for endless runners. Subway Surf delivers exactly what you’d expect: Running and coin collecting. The one big difference is the inclusion of moving trains, which can create frantic darts from track to track.


The Walking Dead: Episode II
– Xbox 360
I’m only 10 minutes into this second chapter and I’m already regretting a decision I made. I’ll just say this: I’m not a fan of high-school jocks. If a character is wearing a letter jacket in a video game and he or she needs my assistance, I’m either going to take my sweet time in assisting them, or will outright refuse to. Unfair people labeling aside, I didn’t expect chapter two to deliver such a high level of intensity out of the gate. My plan is to finish this game up before the weekend hits.

Week 2: Last Friday I told myself that I was going to play Dragon's Dogma for 15 to 20 hours over the weekend. I was looking forward to losing myself in that world again, especially since other players have been showering me with gifts after my pawn was selected as the "special pawn of the week." Lo and behold, I spent under an hour with the game. At 10 PM on Friday night, I felt it was too late to jump into an RPG. I instead decided to play The Amazing Spider-Man for "a level or two." That level or two ended up transforming into a weekend of web-swinging across New York City. I became obsessed with the game. It ruled my life for three straight days. Here are my thoughts on it, as well as a round-up of the other games that I managed to squeak in time with. I should also point out that this blog entry will be updated throughout the week, as new games and progress are made.


The Amazing Spider-Man
I'll start with a statement you wouldn't expect to hear: The Amazing Spider-Man is my favorite Spider-Man game of this console generation. I enjoyed Shattered Dimensions and its multi-dimensional look at this iconic comic book character, but felt its story fit more into Marvel's "What If" universe than the traditional Spider-Man continuity I know and love. The Amazing Spider-Man is spun from the wall crawler's classic comic book formula. What begins as a game that appears to want to be a Batman: Arkham Asylum clone (only with red and blue spandex) quickly turns into a game of "how much pain can we inflict upon Spider-Man?" He takes a beating in this game, walking away from most fights with his outfit in tatters. Most of the boss fights are epic, Michael Bay-like throwdowns where something always seems to be exploding and most of the connecting blows exchanged between Spidey and his foe are as cinematic as can be. I often found myself laughing over just how ridiculous and awesome these moments are. Punch a skyscraper-sized mechanical worm in the eye? Sure, why not. The web-swinging isn't as fun to use or as intuitive as Spider-Man 2's, but the new Web Rush mechanic adds an element that has been missing from all Spider-Man games: the ability to quickly dart out of the way. This handy little tool makes city exploration so much easier, works incredibly well for stealth sequences, and gives Spider-Man the edge in battle. If you have the time on your hands, play this game. I felt that it lived up to its name. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. My Score: 8.5 out of 10.


Sniper Elite V2
After Spider-Man's credits rolled late Sunday night, I once again found myself looking for a game that wouldn't suck me in. Sniper Elite V2 filled that role nicely. I played two levels, and walked away from it thinking about Tenchu, one of my all-time favorite series. The comparison comes from me crouch-walking across entire levels, trying to go for close-range stealth kills. Yes, this technique is in exact opposition to being a sniper, but it ends up working quite well in this game. When enemies spot me, I fall back on the sniping gameplay, which as Tim showed us, is gratuitous fun. I'm looking forward to spending more time with this game, but I don't know when that will be. Spec Ops: The Line was just dropped into my lap, and I've been dying to play it.


Dragon's Dogma
I completed one escort mission, and spent the remainder of my time in the game looking at new pawns to recruit. Thanks to the people who enlisted the help of my pawn, I now have the funds needed to purchase just about anyone that I want. Do I pick the best the game has to offer, or stick to characters that fit with my level?


The Naked Gun: I.C.U.P.
I learned something this weekend: Adventure games on the iPad are the perfect companions for meals. I was able to stuff my face with food and play this game at the same time with no problems whatsoever. My concerns of this game not delivering humor were way off. If you chuckled at this game's title, you'll find yourself giggling often at the dialogue and scenarios. I'm about an hour into it, and hope to finish it off at some point this week.


Primeval

When I needed a break from gaming, I turned to my favorite "watch dinosaurs eat people in modern times" show. I'm on the third volume, and have to say, the "Spinosaurs eating people" episode is fantastic!

Week 1: When I arrive at work, the first thing I do is answer reader emails. One of the most asked questions (outside of "When does the next Super Replay start?") is "What games are you currently playing?" I'm hoping this new blog – which I plan to update weekly – addresses these questions, and also gives you an idea of why I'm playing each game – in my line of work, game playing isn't all about entertainment. A lot of time is dedicated to research. Here are the games I'm playing this week.


Dragon's Dogma
My obsession with Capcom's dragon killing simulator hasn't diminished at all. This is my go-to game on the weekends and days where I can sit back and kick my feet up for hours on end. I'm currently questing to slay a griffin. I've been tailing this beast for hours. We exchanged blows. It flew away. I set traps to lure it in. We fought again. It flew away. This time, however, it's retreat led me to its nest. Game over, bird-lion-thing. I love how much emphasis this game puts on singular foes. This isn't a "learn about a monster and kill it within minutes" endeavor. Just tracking down this beast has become its own adventure, delivering as much exploration and drama as Frodo's quest to throw a ring in lava. My goal is to play through every quest. By my estimates, I still have another 100 hours to pour into this game.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dawnguard
I logged a couple hours into this DLC offering earlier in the week, and will probably dedicate most of today to it. I have to play as much of it as I can before we record this week's podcast (this afternoon). Getting back into this is proving to be difficult. Even after logging over 100 hours into the core game, I no longer have a connection with my character. I spent a good hour rediscovering my approach to weapons and spells, not to mention getting used to the controls again. The core game released last November, but given how much I forgot about the game, I could have sworn it was at least three years ago. With that said, the vampire-infested plot drew me right in, and I love the twist that is thrown in at the end of the "Awakening" mission.


The Naked Gun: I.C.U.P.
I'm currently in the middle of one of those "I can't find anything good to play on my iPhone/iPad" phases. I decided to take a chance on this new adventure game based on one of my all-time favorite movies and television series, Naked Gun. I'm only 20 minutes into the game. I'm impressed with the animation and spoken dialogue, but have yet to laugh.


Disney Universe
My wife and I spend a considerable amount of time playing co-op games together. So much time, in fact, that we've played through all of the great co-op games, and are now searching for anything to play. Disney Universe is delivering some fun, but it's one of those games that is so repetitive in its design that we can't play it for more than an hour at a time. LEGO Lord of the Rings can't come soon enough.


The Amazing Spider-Man
I walked away from our Test Chamber episode mighty intrigued by this game. After playing it for an hour last night, my interest is still held. I like what I've seen thus far. We'll see if it holds up once I start tackling the side missions.

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