Xbox LIVE Wrap-Up for June 24th, 2010

As I mentioned in this week’s Playstation wrap-up, I took last week off for E3. Apparently, Sony was exhausted, and decided to take this week off. Microsoft, for all of the inherent problems Xbox LIVE has as a service – the most of which is that I have to pay $50/yr to be able to do my fucking job, a payment that’s due in a week – actually came out with a notable update this week. Anything would be more notable than Nintendo’s and Sony’s lineups, but we work with what we have.

Follow me for a cranky, $50 lighter version of the LIVE wrap-up.

Xbox LIVE Arcade

Two names of repute were added to the Arcade service this week, with both games being variously aged. The “newer” game is Duke Nukem: Manhatten Project, coming to us from 2002. It’s a side-scrolling shooter, and much like the graphics, the gameplay has NOT aged well. I found the demo to be stiff, clunky, you name the negative adjective for “I couldn’t do what I wanted”. Furthermore, there are a lot of cheap hits to be had, most of them attributed to the fact that you normally have to use the right stick to see dangers ahead, behind, below, etc. It distracts from the actual gameplay. It’s at least nice to see the Duke name worth something in 2010, even if the franchise and 3D Realms are both jokes at this point. Regardless, for $10, I can’t really recommend this except to fans of the original.

The second game dates way back to the 1950s, and is the spiritual successor to games already on the service like Catan and Carcassonne. RISK: Factions is out for $10, and I really shouldn’t have to explain how RISK plays. The game consists of the classic game, as well as a campaign mode which uses custom maps as well as badges that give powerups. I love the classic game, but can’t stand the campaign mode, which gives arbitrary goals to gain the badges in question, which knock the balance of the game completely out of whack. It becomes a race to see who gets the first badge, and after that, like getting Boardwalk and Park Place in Monopoly, it’s just a matter of time before the dominoes fall. I can recommend RISK to people that want to play the classic game against other players over LIVE, but that’s about it. There are numerous versions of RISK available for free, on any operating system you can think of – I was able to download and play KsirK in Ubuntu 10.04 in less than a minute, and it supports network play – so to spend $10 on this seems silly unless you really enjoy the campaign mode, want to play over LIVE specifically, or just have the money lying around. If you’re in the last group, send that money to me! I can use it to take off the $50 I have to pay Microsoft for their shitty yet mandatory service.

Demos

Two demos hit LIVE this week. The first is for NAA Football ’11. This hit the PSN last week, but since I didn’t do a piece last week, I can briefly talk about it this week… that is, if there’s anything differentiating this game from the versions of NCAA we’ve had in the past. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything. The presentation in ’11 is a step up from years past, and in EA’s quest to make more interactive demos – a kudo salute to them for that – they pound home the different offensive systems being used in this game – something they’re specifically advertising – by giving away jerseys for people that play all four different game combinations. There’s a lot of teams to this demo, and a lot to do, but college football has always had different offensive systems; I’m sceptical that they’re going to be able to incorporate it in an innovative way, because I don’t think that’s possible at this point. Furthermore, if any game series lends itself well to past versions of the game being sufficient, it’s an NCAA game; because players are gone within three to four years, there’s always fresh rosters, and since the NCAA doesn’t allow its “amateurs” to have their names in videogames, it’s easy to suspend disbelief if you’re playing a game that’s a couple of years old. I’m sure we’re going to get a good look into this one when it comes out, but until then, the demo is busy enough for people to get a lot out of before day of release.

The second demo is for Crackdown 2. This is the first demo that allows people to actually work towards achievements (actual Microsoft achievements; this is different than, say, the demo for Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’11 allowing people to carry their XP into the main game), and much like a similar game, Just Cause 2, lasts for 30 minutes. Also like Just Cause 2, they didn’t change much; the objective is to blow a lot of shit up, as colourfully as possible. There’s nothing really new here, though I hear that the game seems harder than Crackdown. I also thought this was plagued by some sporadic aiming, which was made worse by the fact that auto-targeting is extremely finicky. With that said, the game was still fun to play, mainly because there was so much to blow up, and I liked the use-based leveling up system, where the more people you killed with your guns, or your fists, or with fiery barrels that are blown up or what have you, the more that skill levels up, and the better your space marine guy gets. The demo is definitely worth a 30 minute playthrough, and at the very least, I’m going to slap this into my Gamefly queue.

Games on Demand

There’s one addition to the Games on Demand service, and depending on your views, it’s worthy of either ambivalence or praise: Mirror’s Edge. Most of the reviews that are out there about this are mediocre, but let’s look at what we have here: we have one of the few generally inspiring original games to come out in years, for only $20. Trust me when I say this: control issues aside, the game is worth $20. It’s not the greatest game you’ll play, but it’s good enough for $20, it has a bit of replay value, and if you can get used to the controls, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Furthermore, I almost want to peck EA on the cheek – a company that, considering my write-up on their NCAA review and my evisceration of Tiger ’11, I’m probably not going to be on happy terms with for awhile – for taking the balsy risk with this game that they did, in an era where companies are sticking to sequels and rehashes for dear life. This is a fresh, innovative idea from a company that only recently lost it’s title of World’s Most Evil Publisher to Activision. I think that counts for something, and the game itself isn’t bad at all.

Deal of the Week

It’s a sports themed Deal of the Week:

FIFA 10 Ultimate Game Mode, 240 Points
Madden NFL Arcade, 800 Points
NBA 2K10 Draft Combine, 240 Points
Football Genius, 400 Points
Sensible World of Soccer, 400 Points
Soccer ball Xbox LIVE Avatar prop, 80 Points
MLB Stickball, 400 Points

Take it from our sports expert: there is not one game here worthy of buying. NFL Arcade is a pretty banal package, and while I could justify it for $5, $10 is still too steep. 2K10 Draft Combine is insulting at any price; all it is is a series of minigames for the broken My Player mode in NBA 2K10. Football Genius is a trivia game. Sensible World of Soccer is the worst port of the old game that I’ve ever played; it’s virtually uncontrollable. MLB Stickball is an awful, terrible game. And avatar props are dumb. That means there is not one deal that’s worth even a discounted price here.

We did miss the Sonic the Hedgehog sale that went on Thursday, though the deal wasn’t great; all four classic Sonic games were $3 each, and though that sounds good, it’s important to remember that Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection is running for $18 used nowadays, and comes with many, many more games, with the only thing missing being the lock-on technology that came with Sonic & Knuckles. One positive thing: this sale was actually open to both Gold and Silver members. Congratulations, Microsoft: you win this week’s Falco Lombardi “I Guess I Should Be Thankful” Award.

That’s it for this week. The highlight is Mirror’s Edge and the Crackdown 2 demo. The arcade games are worthy of at least a trial download and possibly a purchase depending on taste, but everything else is pretty pants. Until next week, this is Christopher Bowen, who wishes to remind everyone – both Microsoft and my readers – that Microsoft’s horrible, extortionate online policies are actively costing the system games.

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