I took a short break from work at the end of the year (as well as RPGs) and played a few video games... and I thought it appropriate to tell you what I thought of them — because you're dying to know.
GTA 4. I took a long hiatus from this game because the damn phone calls stopped me from playing the game. Anyone that's read a review of GTA 4 or otherwise played with the game, knows how annoying it is to have Jacob, Roman, and your bevy of girlfriends calling every 10 minutes wanting to hang out. With a character as rich as Niko Belic and a story as deep and moving as GTA 4, no one wants to stop and shoot pool.
It was fun once. Pool doesn't get better in GTA the 17th time you play it.
And neither is Air Hockey in the Lost and Damned expansion.
Dancing is annoying in Ballad of Gay Tony, as well.
GTA 4 was worth every penny and then some, beyond the in game distractions. Only a couple of the missions were really really hard and the story peaks in the game can't be matched by any version of the franchise. The follow-up games are weak by comparison.
MOST AMAZING GTA 4 MOMENT: I was done with the game and shooting random people and cops (as is my want). I walked up to a cop car. Fired into the passenger's seat and filled the window with blood (it was graphic). The driver got out and died soon after. The city went nuts with terror and I got into the car and drove away; the dead cop still sitting next to me. Later, I got hit by a cop car and the passenger's door opened. It wasn't however, until I drove backwards and spun the car hard into a bootlegger turn that the body flopped out of the car, onto the pavement, and under the wheels. While most people might be sickened by all this, I marveled in the physics engine that understood inertia and acceleration.
Assassin's Creed 2. Also known as GTA: Crusades is a vast improvement over Assassin's Creed 1. However, the repetitive and mindless side questions and treasure hunting do nothing but clock more hours on the game. You gain absolutely nothing from them.
Even the special Armor isn't important to the finale, despite SIX ADDITIONAL QUESTS to find it.
The worst part of this game though, has to be the brain-dead idea of adding "city-building" to the game. Money effectively becomes useless by the time you get to your second assassination (and there are nine of them again — how creative). Effectively, you inherit your uncle's villa and must improve it — fixing whatever fell into disrepair. The game then starts spitting out money in 20 minute intervals (that's right 20 minutes) to the tune of 2,000 florins (to start). This number climbs to 20,000 by the end of the game. After the game makes FOUR DEPOSITS (of any size) into your account, it caps out and your sister takes the overage (who cares?).
If you need money, just leave the game on and walk away (mow the lawn, whatever), because there is no time urgency of any kind in the game. None. Zero. Ever.
Imagine playing an RPG that rewards a player who sits there and has a staring contest with the GM during a seven-player combat and you've got an idea of how bad this mechanic is.
Not. Thought. Through.
The conspiracy gets a lot more interesting to be sure. And the glyph puzzles are interesting, if not sometimes annoying.
And I of course loved the Italian motif. Venice is so well done, and each of the four towns has it's own personality and size (no more three same-sized cities, with three same-sized sections). This part of the game felt really organic and when he had to visit a muddy little nothing of a village, it brought everything into focus that this really was the Renaissance.
Guitar Hero Van Halen. My worst purchase this season was GHVH. Not only is Van Halen a most mediocre band with two extremely talented musicians, but the team who phoned in this game, apparently didn't even like Van Halen.
Where do I start with what's wrong with this game?
Song List. 25 Van Halen Songs. 19 Guests. Maybe 3 of the guest songs are fun. Regardless of whether I like the songs or not. Some of them just arent' fun. Of the 25 Van Halen songs, one is a repeat from World Tour (Hot for Teacher), and the three instrumentals are all saved for the very end, instead of peppering them throughout.
Now. I'm no David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar fan. I don't tune into VH for the vocals. In fact, this game helps to sharpen the edge of all the bad VH lyrics as you traverse the landscape of "songs about girls." Every overplayed, annoying Van Halen tune you can remember from the 80s is on here. Even Jump. Dear god. Jump. To make matters, worse, Panama... among the best of their tunes is the FIRST one you play, making sure that you play the simpliest, stupidest, most dumbed down version of the song possible.
I haven't finished all the songs and I'm not sure I'm going to. Game Stop will probably give me $30 for it and I'm going to see if that can go toward my copy of Mass Effect 2, which promises to eat my soul unless I feed it everyday.
If anyone from Red Octane, Activision, or Neversoft is reading this... "go to hell." GHVH was disappointing.
ASIDE: I'm not a Metallica fan, either. But GHM was a lot of fun. GHVH is an exercise in sad, mediocre gameplay.
UPDATE: I owe everyone a story about how the L5R campaign ended, the next d20 World installment, and the set up for our new fantasy campaign (using the rules from Tribe 8).