The Backlog: Pre-Tryptophan Tidings of Gamedom edition

Turkeytime The Holidays approach. For some that means quality time with family members not seen for a year -- maybe more. Others, well...can I get a "what what" if at some point during your life you hid away in the midst of celebrations to finish Earthbound (or, insert other game reference here). However, my adult years have made me more personable when it comes to the holidays; I'm now infinitely more interested in the going-ons of my kin.

Still, I won't lie that this year I'd prefer to mow down more of Left 4 Dead 2's cajunized zombies with a giant plate of delicious turkey and fixins on my lap. I'm thankful for me.

We're back on track for backlogs, and this week is mega-sized to make up for our absence. To summarize: Nick informs us he essentially played everything ever released this month, Doug gushes about his beloved Forza 3 between study sessions, and I write about why two wonderful November-born titles should be played on the PC.

Do the Mario!

Nick:

Life served up a particularly hellish week for me, so it was fortunate that I had a slew of excellent games to escape with.

I spent a few fantastic hours in New Super Mario Bros. Wii in its fantastic cooperative/competitive mode earlier this week. What Jerry Holkins said about this game's debilitating effects on a relationship is true, to a point; while we were able to help each other out for the most part, there were times where my attempts to "take the lead" or "get us through this tough spot" often led to one or both of us being killed, prompting my girlfriend to say some things about me that are rarely included in the same sentences used to talk about a Mario game. But it was all in good fun -- something this game has in ample supply. It's Mario in his best form ever, and anyone who grew up playing these games should purchase it without hesitation.

This week also brought another sequel to a game I adored: Assassin's Creed 2. Transporting the game to Renaissance Italy is perhaps the most significant shift in story and setting that I've seen in a franchise in quite some time, and Ubisoft Montreal deserves some commendation for crafting an incredible sequel to an already ambitious debut title. There's so much I could say about how things were improved -- combat, economy, actions and consequences, exploration, story -- but I'll lay it out like this instead. If you loved Assassin's Creed, you'll love Assassin's Creed 2. And if you hated the original? You'll probably love Assassin's Creed 2 anyway.

Having completed all five campaigns in Left 4 Dead 2, I'm happy to pronounce myself an official fan of the series. Although I bought the first game and had my fair share of fun with it, I always felt a little uneasy playing it. And it wasn't because of the game's tension, or horror-film veneer, or anything like that; it was just that the game sent a constant message that your survival was entirely at the game director's mercy. In the sequel, the tone has changed significantly for the better. If Left 4 Dead was Valve's attempt to make an interactive zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 is Valve making a balls-out Zombieland-style game. Melee weapons encourage close combat, lending a sense of strength and confidence to the survivors that was sorely missing from the first. All four of the characters in the sequel have stronger personalities than the first game's survivors, and their determination on getting to New Orleans to be rescued encourages the player to keep slogging it out through hell and high water. It's one of the most improved sequels of the year, without a doubt.

And when you consider that Left 4 Dead 2 was developed in just one year, it's disappointing that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 didn't shape up to be more substantial. To be fair, Infinity Ward's last game, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, not only reinvented the series -- it raised the bar significantly for what an online multiplayer experience can be. I sank a "mere" 40 hours into COD4's multiplayer mode, which pales in comparison to most of the people on my friends list. Multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2 is technically just as good as COD4's, but after a solid six hours online in a variety of modes I'm struggling to stay interested. The mantra in developing this sequel seems to have been "more options in every aspect of play," which is a good thing, but the core sensation of Call of Duty 4 has dulled for me. I was hoping lightning would strike twice, and I suppose it did, but I was hoping for a more risky and adventurous update to multiplayer -- not a mere iteration. If I wanted that, I'd have bought last year's Call of Duty: World at War. If there is one area that received a substantial improvement, though, it's the single player. Rather than attempt to keep things within the bounds of reality, Infinity Ward opted to create an over-the-top global conflict that was flawlessly paced from start to finish. It's ludicrous, but it's so, so much fun. At about six hours to complete, it's shorter than COD4's -- but considering how tedious replaying that game's campaign was for me, I'm much happier with the new game's approach.

I'm still slogging through Dragon Age: Origins with my city elf rogue. Steam says I've played for quite a long time, but I'm only at about 15% completion. Maybe it's because I love reading every entry in the admirably written codex, or because I can't help but talk to every NPC, but I'm getting an astronomically entertaining experience for my money with this game. I'm really struggling to fathom just how Mass Effect 2 could top the quality of this experience once it hits in January.

I also sank a few rounds in with the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 beta. I'd been hoping for a return to the glory days of Battlefield 2, and instead what I got was Bad Company with a moderate graphical upgrade; it's good, but there are better options available. Looks like I'll still be holding out for Battlefield 3 after all.

Doug says: WEEEEEEE!

Doug:

While I've been way too busy finishing up the majority of my grad school quarter, I've still found time to play a little bit of...erm...Forza Motorsport 3. And nothing else.

But it's so good! I still love pretty much everything about it, even if I haven't been able to play online with my friends at all. The rewind button is a godsend -- it erases single-player frustration with the ease of control-z functionality. The selection of cars and tuning options are superb; I've made an old-school Volkswagen Rabbit into a fire-breathing, turbocharged four-wheel-drive monster that could eat a Ferrari for lunch and spit out its bones.

It's been said that Microsoft and Turn 10 gets things right in the third iteration, and this particular game is a great example of that. It's almost strange to think that all three Forza Motosport games have been released since Sony and Polyphony released Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2. It's scary to think how much Forza has moved ahead certain aspects of console racing games.

Along with Forza, I've tried out a few of the Xbox Live improvements from this week's update -- namely the implementation of Facebook and Twitter. And that's really the extent of my interaction; they're there, they work just as advertised, but I feel like I'm kind of missing the point. It's nice to have both services everywhere at all times, but until a real killer use for either blooms on the 360 they're going to feel like tacked-on additions.

I don't think James Brown had this in mind when he wanted to take us "to the bridge."

Aaron:

Let's get down to it. Left 4 Dead 2 and Dragon Age: Origins are two amazing games that deserve to be played on the PC only.

Now, I love consoles. This isn't a fanboy thing. And I fully understand that not everyone has a modern computer capable of playing the latest releases -- Boot Camp Macs included. So, let's assume you're a lucky gamer who has the following: a home console of the PS3 or Xbox 360 variety, and a gaming PC. Let's also assume you enjoy co-op zombie shooting and in-depth fantasy RPGs. You're excited about the aforementioned titles, but you're hesitant to commit to a particular platform. Here's the answer: Play those games on the PC, or you're not getting your money's worth.

That may be a blatantly ignorant statement to some, but these words come from a person who, before this month, more or less abandoned PC gaming over the past year (aside from Dawn of War II and Left 4 Dead 1). PCs get the short end of the doomsday stick these days. People say the PC as a gaming device is dead, no one makes money off of the games anymore, and pirating is ruining developers left and right. Controversies aren't helping the perception of PC gamers amongst the general gaming populace either. So that's why I'm glad to see Electronic Arts promoting the platform with a definitive version Dragon Age, and Valve doing their thing by releasing such a quality computer title as L4D2.

Dragon Age works best on PC because of the following: the overall better performance (higher frame rate, less glitching, faster loading), a more sensible control/camera mechanic, and a BioWare community toolset that paves the way for future user mods. If Neverwinter Nights is an example to go by, expect years of free, quality content flowing from the collective mind of an invested fan base.

Now, Left 4 Dead 2 deserves to be experienced on the PC because it's a Valve title first, console port second -- plain and simple. The Steam service is consistent in its ability to match like minded players and bring friends together promptly. PC gamers are spoiled when it comes to online play. Thanks, dedicated servers.

I'd also wager the community on Steam is better than Xbox Live's. Actually, it is better. Left 4 Dead 2 even has a section specifically for add-ons, and it's exciting to think of the campaigns an active community will create using the sequel's assets. The original's user-made maps were generally great, so expect a longer lifespan if you pick up L4D2 on the PC.

Oh, and PC versions are cheaper than their console counterparts. That's a plus.