The Backlog: Life During Boretime edition

There's not much to say this week. Doug and Aaron are both on trips of varying intensity and length, and I'm once again at the helm. But I'm not jealous! There's a quiet dignity to be found in staying at home, you know. And it saves money. Really, it's the only reasonable way to live in these uncertain times.

Yep.

I mean, what kind of person would really want to go on a whirlwind tour of Asia for a whole month? Doug. Doug's the guy. And, wow, big deal -- the first weekend with amazing weather in the Pacific Northwest. "Hey everybody, we need to go party at the coast now!" That's definitely what Aaron said when he left to go party at the coast with his totally awesome and probably quite attractive friends.

But no. I'm fine. I'm fine! Just, you know, read this thing and leave me to my unbridled joy.

Aaron

What a week! In the span of seven days I've managed to acquire three new games, one of which I finished last night and loved -- in opposition to my formerly hesitant feelings toward it. That game was BioShock 2.

My will caved at 1:34 p.m. Pacific Standard Time last Friday, the 26th of February. The hands I repeatedly told to stay still had turned on me, guided by a rogue cerebellum with its deep-seated need to do the opposite of what I tell it. Using the hand and finger dexterity provided to me through millions of years of hominid evolution, I suddenly found my credit card removed from its wallet sheath; the raised series of plastic numbers were being placed into a flashing text box on the GameStop website. The shipping was free. The cost was 10 percent off. My anticipation rose. Would I ever find the relief I sought? Did it matter that I complained about this game multiple times? No. It didn't. [Editor's note: We never forget, Aaron.]

Dramatic attempts at suspense aside, BioShock 2 is a massive improvement over BioShock. I found the environments to be equally as engaging as Rapture 1.0's. That's a compliment by every sense of the word, because the first title's atmosphere left an impression on me that's still quite profound. The enemies are more varied in the sequel, even though you're still largely picking off a handful of different Splicers throughout the story. And as for this new tale of woe housed within Rapture's not-so-water-tight walls: it's brilliant.

The problem with BioShock was its pacing. For me, there was no reason to progress through the game aside from the then-fresh concept of plasmids, the visceral first-person combat, the unique environment and the breathtaking use of sound, graphics, art direction and gameplay in one tight package. The story was a throwaway attempt at mimicking clichéd "who can you really trust?" thrillers seen countless times in films, books and television. But that's not to say I don't adore the first game.

Instead, I'm saying that BioShock 2 is an improvement in almost every way, largely thanks to its perfectly paced story. Your character is still a single-minded mute with illusions of choice and good vs. evil decisions given to him, but the periphery characters are written well and add to the plot nicely. The hunt for your Little Sister, Eleanor, is endearing, and it's amazing how 2K Marin (along with 2K China and 2K Australia) made me feel like a dad without ever having had a child of my own at this point in my life. So sure: The plot won't break any new ground. But what BioShock 2's story proves is that more originality present won't necessarily make for a better game; instead, it's how a developer paces what's there through characterization, emotion and consequence that will start making cracks in the established mold of videogame plot lines.

Aside from that game, I also received my copy of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Honestly, I haven't even touched the multiplayer. That's probably weird considering how many hours I put into the demo, but I'm holding off until a friend receives his copy -- that way we can rank up simultaneously. Multiplayer aside, the game's solo campaign is great so far. It's not going to live up to any expectations set by the FPS crowd in a post-Modern Warfare 2 world, but it holds its own. The set pieces are absolutely gorgeous, with giant, snowcapped mountains looming in the distance, and dense jungle sequences are lit by an impressive light and shadow system. The explosions help vary the palette, too. All in all, I can't help but recommend Bad Company 2...even if I haven't put a single minute into its chunky online portion.

Oh, yeah, one last game to mention: Amped 3. It's hilarious! It really is, and I can't wait to play more of it. What other game starts out with Manfred Mann's "Blinded by the Light"?

I'll have to explain myself in detail at another time (or in a full-on article) but one thing needs mentioning: Look at its achievements, and agree with me when I say the achievement situation has gotten much better in the five-plus years since the Xbox 360 launched. Fifteen achievements for 1000 points? This is madness!

My final contribution to this week's backlog is about this Eurogamer article comparing the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Final Fantasy XIII. While the technical and detail-rich write up hasn't told me anything that I didn't already expect from a three-DVD port of a Blu-ray title, it still frustrates me to think that Square Enix half-assed a version of their game for a console with a larger install base in the U.S (based on summer of 2009 sales numbers for both consoles). In Japan, the PlayStation 3 matters for RPGs -- I get that. But here, the latest game in the series has the potential to sell extremely well on the Xbox given the popularity of the RPGs (though Western they may be, i.e. Mass Effect) already available for it. For all I know, the sales numbers for both of Final Fantasy XIII's platforms could be very close. Oh well, I suppose. I'm still buying it for my 360, only because I don't have a PS3, and I'm still not going to rectify that anytime soon.

Doug

Editor's Note: Doug was too busy having the time of his life traveling throughout Asia to contribute this week. In the meantime, enjoy this photo he shot.

Nick

I've got a soft spot for any game that has ambitions of enabling the player to pull off ridiculous stunts in open-world settings. I loved Saints Row 2's unabashed emphasis on comedy and excess instead of story and realism. Mercenaries 2 won me over with its B-movie appeal. And Red Faction: Guerrilla? After two playthroughs, I'm still craving more  of its trademark destruction and hammer-swingin' goodness.

So it's no wonder that I'm currently having the time of my life with Just Cause. You remember Just Cause, right? It was a port of a sixth-generation open-world game that garnered mixed reviews when it came out nearly four years ago. It's certainly far from perfect -- imprecise controls, uneven design, abysmal acting and animation -- but the game has a soul.

The grappling hook isn't exactly a new concept to games -- Bionic Commando is probably remembered as the first mainstream example of swinging based action -- but when paired with a parachute, the possibilities explode. Instead of being a mere diversion, BASE jumping is the most reasonable way to travel. Why drive a car when you can hook onto one and parasail the highways of a war-torn Central American country?

But even for all the fun I've had with it, Just Cause 2 looks like it's going to blow it away. The action is tighter, the music is better, and the landscapes are absolutely stunning from the air. And most importantly, the grapple/parachute combo has been reinvented. Grappling now works on any surface, meaning Rico can build up momentum and deploy his chute anywhere. And in a clever twist, the grappling gun can now be used to attach any two objects to each other -- such as gas tanks and bad dudes.

Just Cause 2 looks to refine and update what made the original so fun while also cutting out the things that held it back from being a uniformly great game. The demo's live on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and I'd highly recommend you go check it out.

Finally, I also completed BioShock 2 and Heavy Rain. But after playing so many games about water, dads and crazy people, I think I need some time to decompress before I revisit those experiences.