The Backlog: Did Anyone Drink Green Beer? edition

Saint Patrick's Day was Wednesday. I'm sure those of you still nursing your hangovers won't have forgotten the holiday already, but I'm trying to be conversational here, all right?

Though I'm of partial Irish descent, I've never felt the need to "act a fool" in the name of the motherland during March 17th festivities. It doesn't mean I'm against getting intoxicated while listening to Flogging Molly; events in my life just haven't amalgamated to make such things happen.

Also, a note about Irish fashion: Requiring the adornment of green garments on St. Patty's Day is quite the intolerant and abuse-inducing tradition -- those who don't are assaulted with a barrage of pinches, punches and ridicule. We Irish are weird.

This week's update will be a mostly one-man show starring the gaming exploits of Mr. Nick Cummings. I'm still without a new Xbox, because even the slightest chance that the U.S. Xbox 360 Arcade will be dropped in price à la Canada's current discount is enough to make me wait it out for a couple weeks before handing over the charge card. Otherwise, I've been playing the hell out of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 -- to the detriment of my usually calm composure. Doug is still out and about in the Far East, but I've included his most recent tweet in an effort to include him anyway.

Aaron:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a partially broken PC game. Its problems are spread across a number of key areas, from an inadequate (and inaccurate) server browser to the severe bullet lag, which causes two players to kill each other at the exact same time, constantly. The game's problems are much more noticeable now after having spent a week on the virtual battlefield. Yet I still love it, despite the numerous shortcomings.

Frustration -- i.e., yelling, cursing and beating an innocent computer mouse -- is an unfortunate side-effect of the release version of BC2, but when the game works well it's brilliant fun. However, those great moments are interspersed throughout an incessant stream of cheaters (most servers don't use Punkbuster because the anti-cheat software is causing disconnect issues), overpowered guns (the light machine guns [specific to the medic class] have pinpoint accuracy from a significant and unfair distance) and repeated connection issues on Electronic Arts' side (meaning the rented player servers go down fairly often).

In lieu of a review -- which I'll be writing soon -- I'd suggest holding off on Bad Company 2 for a month or so. By then the price will have likely come down a bit, and DICE will have put its team to work on fixing the issues with a big update or two.

Doug:

Via Twitter on March 8th: "Heading out to the airport in a bit...and on to Beijing. China ahoy." It's been well over a week since he's posted an update. For all we know, Doug has been swept up into a martial arts film as an extra. I picture him as a modern version of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Bruce Lee's unfinished-but-still-awesome film Game of Death.

Nick:

You've gotta hand it to the Final Fantasy team. It takes some real audacity to build a successful franchise out of a game that's constantly reinventing itself. No two Final Fantasies play exactly alike, and while there have been relative hits and misses, there's no question that each entry's unique qualities give it a greater enduring value than if each game merely iterated upon the previous one.

But none of them has ever been as impenetrable as Final Fantasy 13. After ten hours and six chapters under my belt, I probably ought to be somewhere near the end of the first act, but I can't shake the feeling that the game is going to spoon-feed me lesson after tedious lesson without ever letting me take the reins, so to speak. I'm fine with a linear approach to role-playing games -- it worked admirably in Final Fantasy 10 -- but with a cast of characters I can't help but detest, not even one of the greatest real-time combat systems can salvage the experience.

The consensus seems to be that RPGs are in a state of flux right now as developers struggle to make old-school, time-honored tropes and mechanics meet with the perceived needs and interests of the modern gamer. Mass Effect 2 showed a very clear evolution favoring its shooter underpinnings while sloughing away methodical inventory management, repetitive side quests and anything else that bogged down the original experience. Final Fantasy13 takes an entirely different approach by embracing what Square Enix apparently perceived to be the series' strong suit: guided, focused narrative that is methodically paced and tied together with an engaging, robust combat system. While Final Fantasy 13's combat is fast, fun and surprisingly well designed, its story is just...well, embarrassing.

The game's requisite unlikely heroes tumble head-first into the depths of the uncanny valley, thanks to a level of detail in textures, rendering and animation that is at times stunning and at others deeply unsettling. Compounding the effect is a melodramatic story delivered through forced lines and awkward gasping noises -- the sort of voice work you'd expect to hear in a half-assed dub of an anime. When games like Uncharted 2 set the bar so high for human performances, a credible story delivered by these actors and their characters is just impossible.

I'd love to go on, but an invitation to the Starcraft 2 beta just popped up in my inbox. Duty calls.