The Backlog: Calm After the Storm edition

588741_4598_front Oh, lordy, we have a lot to talk about this week.

As promised, the Thanksgiving break provided plenty of time for us to get our proverbial, collective game on. From holiday smash hits like Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin's Creed 2, to tried-and-true games and classics...lots of titles this week. LOTS. Let's cut the garbage and just get to the breakdown...

This is probably where you expect me to pull out an Ahnold reference and say, "Get to dee choppa!" Well, you'd be right.

Aaron

Two weeks after the last Backlog, and what do I have to share? Aside from me eating Thanksgiving leftovers for a week and a half, I finally finished a few games that remained on my more metaphorical plate.

Modern Warfare 2 has been my most-played title lately, and it was given to me as an early Christmas present by a dear friend. I have him to blame for the two-and-a-half days spent on it so far.

Though I was extremely skeptical of what another Modern Warfare title had to offer (as the trailers made it look like the first, but with "Extra BIG Explosions!! ®"), I'm pleased to say it's more than exceeded my non-existent expectations. I'll save the highs and lows for my review next week, but Infinity Ward has done three things I didn't think were possible for the Call of Duty franchise: re-tooled multiplayer to be fun again, provided a shorter and sweeter (though flawed) campaign, and created another amazing co-op mode that is unique to the series. Now if they can ban the Javelin missle trick exploiters, I'll be pleased.

Outside of frat boy gaming favorites, I took the time to complete both The Ballad of Gay Tony and Brütal Legend. A review of Gay Tony will be going up this week, but I'll say here that it's a nice bookend to the Grand Theft Auto IV universe. Rockstar's latest DLC has a few quirks I'm not too fond of — namely the new post-mission Rockstar Social Club score card — yet the team brought their A-game to showcase a new set of protagonists that are the best Grand Theft Auto characters I've ever seen. GTA IV had a fantastic script to begin with, but Gay Tony's cast is infinitely easier to relate to. It's a big step for the series' character development.

Brütal Legend was good. Honestly, that's all I feel like writing about it.

I do feel disappointed, as the game was one of our most anticipated titles for awhile now. It's certainly not bad or broken in my opinion (yes, even considering the "RTS" elements), but it just feels like it fell short of its massive potential. Overall, this was an interesting game to play through. I loved it one minute, loathed it the next, and then eventually came to rest on a metaphysical plane of indifference toward it.

I hope Tim Schafer isn't upset at me now.

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Nick

Life teaches us that every time a door closes, another one opens.

Well, it turns out that when you slam the door on a game, a bunch of great ones you've forgotten about spring back and scold you for ignoring them. I learned this upon completing Ubisoft's excellent Assassin's Creed 2, the sequel to one of modern gaming's most controversial titles -- and a personal favorite of mine. By resolving so many of its predecessor's problems (repetition, occasionally flat storytelling) and illuminating its strengths (a novel approach to historical fiction, fantastically rendered cities), Assassin's Creed 2 is a massive and hugely gratifying experience. It was so engaging, in fact, that I earned every achievement over the course of 25 solid hours of gameplay -- without a single frustrating sequence or major design flaw to dampen my impressions of the game.

With Assassin's Creed 2 put to rest, I dove into a couple of unassuming but deviously creative independent adventure games. The first, Windosill, is free to play online or download at windosill.com...until you reach the halfway point. The game then asks for three dollars to complete the experience, which amounts to a mere pittance for the sheer amount of ingenuity packed into the game. To describe the experience would spoil it, but seeing as it's free to try you might as well pop it open in another browser tab and save it for later. Many big-budget retail games are less inspired than this little Flash-based toy, which I'd recommend to anyone who can appreciate an artistic puzzle.

The second game is Machinarium. Created by indie developer Amanita Design, Machinarium is a charming game about a little robot's journey to find something in the big city. Beautiful, distinctive backgrounds and a haunting musical score combine to make one of the most memorable games I've ever encountered. Every character is animated with endearing exaggeration, making for a game that manages to say quite a lot without a single written or spoken word. Machinarium is also free to try online here -- make sure you take a look.

And finally, I succumbed to the siren song of slashed prices and picked up a brand new copy of DJ Hero, FreeStyleGames' turntable-based rhythm game. After the lackluster evolution of the Guitar Hero series in Neversoft's hands and the inexplicable existence of Band Hero, it's wonderful to see a new franchise debut on such a high note. The game and peripheral are both rock-solid at their core, combining to create a music game that doesn't play like anything else on the market. (Move over, Beatmania -- you've got nothing on this game.) Even as an expert Rock Band musician, I found myself forced to start out on Hard before just recently bumping up to expert. Fortunately there's no punishment for ambition -- you can't ever fail out of a song. That's good news if you, like me, get a little carried away with some of the catchier mixes in the game. Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc." mixed with Blondie's "Atomic"? "Bittersweet Symphony" with 2Pac's "All Eyes on Me"? Yeah. It's rad.

Why oh why did I wait so long to finally dig into Super Metroid?

Doug

Here it is - the quiet after the storm. Not only for the fall release Armageddon, but also in my school term. This means, of course, more time for gaming! And that's a very good thing.

Subject number one is, easily, Forza 3. I'm still loving the experience of playing through the single-player, and I wish I could find more time to hop online and race with my friends on Xbox Live. I love the race cars in the game — the sounds, the sensation of speed, the feel of the grip and aerodynamics...hell, you can even feel the engines struggling to gasp for air against their inlet restrictors from time to time (this is realistic and makes me happy). That the game recognizes the racing series-mandated restrictors is one thing; that you can pay to remove them is another, and shows the care that Turn 10 paid to this game. And the feel of the restrictors on engine performance is icing on the realism cake, so to speak.

I've also been back on the NCAA 10 bandwagon. It still has its faults, and I would pay good Microsoft spacebucks for DLC that updated the uniforms with Oregon's real ones for this year, but the offensive gameplanning and gameplay is still pretty sweet. Defense isn't so bad, either. It's candy for my brain, and I enjoy it.

While I want to spend more time on Brütal Legend (and likely will this weekend), I did get the chance to put time into another single-player game: Super Metroid. I'm becoming a big fan of this style of game design (hello, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night!), and haven't played this one yet, so I fired up the ol' emulator and took it to task. And I also got far enough in the game to frustratingly die and lose an hour's worth of progress. Definitely digging the ambience and mood behind the game as well — I want to play it with headphones on to get the full audio experience.