The Backlog: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bayonetta edition

Why am I so conflicted over BioShock 2? The original was great, brilliant even. And if 2K Marin's sequel is half as good as the first, that would still make it better than all of the dust-collecting shovelware currently sitting on store shelves.

Nick doesn't seem as wracked with indecision this week as yours truly, and I fully believe it when he predicts BioShock 2 will soon find a spot in his vast library of interactive software. However, Nick doesn't know that upon purchasing the game he will be obligated to review it. Sorry, friend.

Doug takes this edition's opportunity to educate us on the intricate differences between Pro Evo Soccer 2010 and FIFA 10, and it's an extremely informative primer about a segment of gaming I've all but forgotten. I actually want to give soccer sims another shot after reading it. Truly, I do.

And for me, well, I'm in love with Bayonetta -- the game, mind you. Though with her strength-based sex appeal and quotes such as: "Do I look like I'm a child person? Making children, on the other hand," it's easy to swoon over the ridiculous charm of the character and to even feel all right about it; hopefully without coming off as a chauvinist.

Also, apologies for the article headline. An Otis Redding track pack is coming to Rock Band next week, and I thought the titular pun was appropriately humorous. I was likely wrong.

Nick:

When you've been playing games for 20 years, you tend to appreciate the major advances that have been made in game design. But at the same time, it's nice when an ages-old strategy remains as relevant as ever. And in the case of Mass Effect 2, it turns out that maintaining multiple save files is still a really, really good idea.

I managed to save the universe last Sunday, but not without paying a heavy price: My crew was decimated by a couple of terrible decisions that I made. While I appreciate the real weight of the consequences your actions have in the game's suicide mission finale, I wasn't about to let my game end on anything but my own terms. I re-evaluated what went wrong the first time around, and managed to complete the mission a second time last night without a single mistake. That felt good.

I held off on picking up BioShock 2 this week, a decision that gnaws at me every day. I'll probably cave and purchase it soon. What can I say? I'm a sucker for art deco, big band music and Objectivism.

And in a few moments, I'm going to boot up the PlayStation Network demo of Heavy Rain, a game I'm both anticipating and dreading. Back in 2005, I was captivated by Indigo Prophecy's demo and its revolutionary, open-ended adventure game design. I wish I'd known at the time just how disastrous the rest of the game was -- frankly, it was the absolute worst game I finished in the last decade -- but from what I've heard, Quantic Dream learned from its mistakes when it set about designing its latest game. Indigo Prophecy was proof that Quantic Dream was a team filled with brilliant ideas. I just hope they managed to fully develop them this time around!

Doug:

Along with finishing Mass Effect 2 — which was an incredibly satisfying and very well done game from start to finish — I've hopped back into one of my classic addictions: Konami's Winning Eleven soccer series. In lieu of sitting down and working on a review that very few of our readers would likely find useful, I will instead take some time here and justify how I can absolutely love Pro Evo Soccer 2010 but also want to give it a mediocre review score.

This game does lots of things right. It provides a deep, customizable single-player mode in the form of a refined Master League (with added UEFA Champions League licensing!), an improved animation and physics engine for the gameplay, and even more expansive customization possibilities. As somebody who's put probably 200 hours into PlayStation 2-era PES titles, the latest game is what I've wanted for the last two years: a good next-gen console PES.

The problem is the learning curve. Not only do you have to have a real interest in soccer — not a given here in the U.S. — but you have to be willing to put a lot of time into PES 2010. The controls are an evolved mish-mash carried over from the PS2 era; there's little doubt that some parts of the control could be better. Intimidating for newcomers, yes, but for somebody who already knows what to do it's an adequate improvement over the previous incarnations. The same goes for off-the-field mechanics too: Konami has never secured as many licenses as EA Sports' FIFA titles, but that's fine because you can edit the non-licensed teams to within an inch of realism. Buyers of the PS3 version of PES 2010 can do a little heavy lifting by importing game files that will fill the lackluster licensing holes; problem is, it's much more difficult on the 360, and even renaming teams can be an intimidating process -- never mind renaming all the players on any given team.

So why do I put up with this crap instead of just buying FIFA 10? Because of PES 2010's on-field gameplay and presentation. FIFA's graphics are very good, but they have always looked "off" to me; PES looks more like how soccer has been broadcast on TV for years. It's an aesthetic preference. FIFA's gameplay is fine as well — the last few years have improved both the passing system and the A.I., making the series more robust — but it still feels a touch hollow and boring. Few PES games are boring, especially in all the ways one can move the ball upfield and put it in the back of the net; FIFA over the last few years can feel like foosball at times.

For example: my current Master League save is with Italian club AS Roma, which has a very good attacking left fullback (John Arne Riise) who can bomb up the wing and put crosses in from deep with pinpoint accuracy. I've scored a couple of headers this way, and trying to work an opening to make use of this particular player's strength is engaging and fun. Making use of other players and their talents is also a challenge — playing tappy-tap football with my favorite team, Arsenal, is a very different game from building Liverpool's attack around Steven Gerrard's surges forward and Torres' brilliance and speed. They're all rewarding, true to real life, and once you've built a team that plays how you want to play, it's utterly brilliant.

If you understood any of that above paragraph, PES 2010 is probably for you -- it's not for everybody. Otherwise, stick to FIFA and enjoy the ride.

Aaron:

I'm not even close to finishing Bayonetta, which arrived in the mail last Saturday. Each day I chip away a little more of the game, constantly pausing between chapters to evaluate such things as: my foolish blocking mistakes, which combos work best, how many halos I need to save up for a cool attack, and so on and so forth. The fact that I'm taking my time and being meticulous about my decisions tells me that I actually care about the entire experience. I don't want to ruin it.

When I plow through big games like Borderlands, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, it's because I find the experience addicting;  I'm flushed with the desire to keep amassing experience, loot or whatever other incentives are there. That's just my style, and it's why I've been a diehard RPG fan for as long as I can remember. But sometimes, it sucks to play games like that -- no matter how many moments etch themselves into my brain, I get the sense that I'm missing something by forcing myself to perform a blitzkrieg of playtime. In that sense I highly appreciate Hideki Kamiya's work in the action genre. Bayonetta has forced me to use gaming muscles I've lost since the PlayStation 2 days.

Back then I played Devil May Cry to death, dominated God of War (and also yelled at it in anger) and absolutely loved the Viewtiful Joe titles on GameCube. Ever since the latest generation of consoles started I've forgotten how to play certain games, and I'm quickly remembering that it's very important to diversify your gamer's resume to effectively expand your digital horizons. I've missed relying on my twitch reflexes and an intimate knowledge of combo systems to achieve battlefield domination.

Bayonetta has brought that level of fun back to me. It's witty, intelligent, hilarious and has the greatest videogame heroine I've had the privilege of playing as (aside from Beyond Good and Evil's Jade, perhaps). I've never seen an action game that takes itself seriously while simultaneously laughing at its own lineage since, well, Kamiya's other games.

I've also put around 16 hours into the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 demo.

I'm buying the full game, no question. And don't forget to highlight March 2nd, 2010: Look forward to it as the day I will absolutely destroy you with my Bad Company 2 sniping abilities. I rarely boast, but this time I'm telling the truth.