The Backlog, Vol. 5 – Ocean Size edition

Well, PopCap, you’ve done it again.

I was all set to get the Backlog out the door so I could enjoy my weekend, and you had to stumble in out of the cold, like an estranged lover drawn back to rekindle a long-burning flame. All those hours we spent matching jewels, the dizzying ecstasy of our peg-filled Extreme Fevers…you’ve always been good to me, baby.

And now you show up on my doorstep with this new game, Plants Vs. Zombies — a clever and hilarious twist on a revered casual genre — and I can’t help but fall in love with you all over again.

Um. So yeah, that’s where I’ve been for the past three hours. Read on to see what the rest of the gang’s up to!

Nick: Aside from the freakishly addictive Plants Vs. Zombies, I’ve been trying to find good music I haven’t heard. And one of the best ways I’ve found for discovering new music is to check it out in Rock Band 2, naturally. There are two reasons:

  1. I love playing Rock Band 2.
  2. Harmonix has impeccable taste in music.

So I’ve been catching up on some of my favorite artists — Neko Case, the Allman Brothers Band, and, uh…REO Speedwagon. But the biggest gamble I made turned out to be a fantastic decision. I picked up Nothing’s Shocking, the debut album from Jane’s Addiction, and I’m shocked by how much I’m enjoying the thing from start to finish. The funky basslines, the intricate drum patterns, the awesome guitar solos, the…well, whatever Perry Farrell’s singing about, I like it too.

I’ve also got several games I’m pushing myself to finish in order to review them next week: Halo WarsResistance 2 and GTA: Chinatown Wars, primarily. But you can also look forward to another hand-picked iPhone game review this Monday, and I’m sure I won’t be able to stop blathering on about Plants Vs. Zombies anytime soon.

Aaron: So, this week I managed to download and explore the 10-day free trial for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I’ve heard decent to average things about the game since its release, but after playing for a few days I’ll stick my neck out here and say this: Warhammer is more fun and better-crafted than World of Warcraft in terms of player vs. player content.

The Realm vs. Realm aspect of Warhammer is tighter and more fast-paced than Warcraft’s frustrating and sometimes inaccessible Player vs. Player feature. In Warhammer, players are in and out of battles quickly, they can queue from anywhere for numerous different battlegrounds and characters are even returned to their previous location, post-battle.

Even Warhammer’s quest system is more intuitive, though the myriad of “Kill this” and “Collect that” missions are pretty standard. I also enjoy how the minimap in Warhammer will lay a red hue over the area where your quest can be found, reducing the need for a multitude of add-ons just to find something, as is the case with WoW.

I doubt I’ll subscribe, as any MMO is a burden of commitment, but I’m quite impressed with what Warhammer has to offer.

Aside from all that online kerfuffle (there’s an antiquated word), I got back into some of The Witcher: Enhanced Edition and enjoyed it a lot. I’ve also been plowing through Fallout 3‘s three packs of DLC for our review feature, and I finally got around to Suikoden Tierkreis. Man, the voice acting in that game is absolutely horrendous.

Otherwise this weekend I’ll be watching some movies, enjoying the weather and the apartment to myself and probably reading. I’m a bit “gamed out.”

Doug: More of the same for me this week, as time-old traditions continue anew: Sports and racing games have dominated my gaming time this week.

Of course, my go-to has been FIFA 09. I’m hooked now on the main Manager mode, where I’m trying to guide Italian side Sampdoria to glory; I also have saves in that mode with my favorite soccer team, Arsenal, and an English side called Leicester City. The latter will be a challenge run, trying to build the team up from the third tier of English soccer up into a powerhouse.

Even better, word through the grapevine is that Sasquatch editor Nick Cummings is thinking of dipping his toe into the sports gaming world by giving FIFA a try. My evil plan, it is working! Seriously, soccer is almost the perfect sports game to start with: The sport is very accessible, the current (since the 08 version) FIFA engine has great flexibility with its control scheme so beginners can start with some very good training wheels, and it’s loads of fun. It’s not overly complicated and, much like a fighting game, the way you play is very tailored to the individual.

The other game I’ve been spending lots of time on is Project Gotham Racing 4. I picked this up with Assassin’s Creed a few weeks ago for cheap at GameStop; both games cost me less than $40. I honestly can’t believe I shrugged PGR4 off the first time because it is rather amazing and, fitting in with the theme, it’s a great racing game for somebody interested in the genre to start with.

It’s really also the ultimate evolution of the work Bizarre Creations started with PGR2 on the original Xbox: You’re driving fast through real-life cities and doing a variety of race types to not only finish first, but finish first in style. The controls are great, and while it’s not the most realistic racer in the world (Forza 2 beats it, and that gets stomped by myriad PC simulators in terms of realism) it has a heft and feel and gravity to the driving that just feels more hyper-real than arcadey. The feeling of driving fast and attacking corners in PGR4 is what car geeks like myself like to remember our real-life Sunday drives feeling like.

It also does weather effects rather well, especially the rain. The moment I knew that was driving in one of the wet cities and feeling both a rumble effect and a slight pull from a large pool of water on the street. Being a native Portlander, I know driving in the rain – and PGR4 nails that feeling really well.

I hope to take more chunks out of Assassin’s Creed and maybe my second Mass Effect playthrough this weekend; might hop into Rock Band 2 a bit, too. But don’t be surprised if I’m still on FIFA.