The Backlog: Raw Power edition

We are bringing the thunder this week; the appropriate background soundtrack for the Backlog this week can be found right here. Aaron is blowing stuff up in a variety of games; Doug is breaking free from the shackles of the standard Xbox 360 hardware; and Nick is breaking hearts and tiles with another great Scrabble lookalike.

So kick back, put on some real proper ass-kicking music, and prepare to have your mind BLOWN AWAY!


After the long-winded diatribe I offered earlier this week on the subjects of Pokémon and, to a greater extent, Just Cause 2, I find myself a bit winded as I sit here trying to explain what else I played this week. I did happen to finish Just Cause 2 last night, but I'm not sure if you can really call it "complete" when I'm only 28 percent done with what Panau has to offer. For those interested, 28 percent equals out to just a bit under 24 hours of game time played. Each person's mileage may vary, but that's how long it took me to do whatever I wanted in-between the seven main story missions -- which are miniscule at best, by the way. I wouldn't recommend buying or playing this game under the impression that the story campaign will last you a long time. What you get out of the game comes mostly from the free-spirited roaming (and destroying) of Panau. Blowing up things as you see fit does have a greater point other than twisted satisfaction: you'll need to cause chaos through numerous side missions handed out by three separate Panauan militant groups to unlock the next tier of Agency missions, thereby advancing the plot.

There are also ninjas in Just Cause 2. Make note of that fact.

I haven't dipped my toes into any other pools of gaming this week, aside from the kiddie pool that is Bad Company 2. I'm rank 27 now, which is just a bit under half of the way to the max rank of 50. A friend of mine purchased the PC version allowing us to bring another body into the war; now my three Bad Company 2-owning friends and I can fill an entire squad by ourselves. The thought is that with a full squad we will forever erase the possibility of having an unknown squad member hang back at the HQ where the tanks and helicopters spawn, and do nothing for an entire round but C4 the vehicles before his teammates can enter them. Our newly acquired "band of brothers" doesn't mean the general teammate population won't continue to engage in such methods of douchebaggery; it just won't be under the command of our squad (unless we decide to do it ourselves, for laugh-out-loud purposes).

On a side note, it's depressing to see so many of my other friends playing the game on Xbox 360 night after night. We'll never be able to fight back hordes of enemy combatants together, separated for an eternity by a digital sea frothing and churning with incompatibility. I thought we were all supposed to play together one day (i.e. now), regardless of platform preference, in what would resemble the videogame version of a hive mind. I'm aware that mouse and keyboard controls are more accurate, but I'd think a slight bit of auto-aim on the consoles would assist with that perceived discrepancy. Whatever — that's just, like, my opinion, man.


After getting past the crippling effects of jet lag, I've been turning to gaming to grant me sweet release from my degenerate graduate student lifestyle (or, perhaps, to encourage it? I'm not 100 percent sure). Strangely, most of what I've been thinking about this week isn't playing games on Xbox 360, but how to manage memory on my 360.

Please keep in mind that, unlike my comrade in arms Nick, I haven't taken the opportunity to upgrade my 360's hard drive capacity whatsoever. The problem with this lies with one game: Rock Band. Since so much of a bog-standard 20 gig hard drive is taken up by system files and management — only roughly 13 gigs is free for your saves and content — having an export of Rock Band 1's song files and a decent collection of download packs quickly starts chomping into your hard drive's available space. And since mandatory content packs, game demos, and Xbox Live Arcade games are getting bigger and bigger all the time...this causes problems.

For the past few months I've had roughly 500 mb of available space on my hard drive. I didn't want to delete anything else; I'd been avoiding going through my Rock Band collection and thinning some tracks out for the time being because there are so many files to go through. Regardless, when I heard about the USB drive memory capabilities coming this week, I was giddy — I don't know if anybody else has dealt with it before, but even if the USB drive capability was limited to moving gamertags around, it would be amazing. Neither overpaying for a memory card or recovering your gamertag via Xbox Live is a particularly quick and easy process, so being able to use a damn thumb drive is spectacular.

So that kicked off a nice hour or two worth of moving older, unused game saves and files from my hard drive to the thumb drive I received with my limited edition copy of Forza Motorsport 3 (it seemed the appropriate thumb drive to dedicate to this task). And this was a solution that worked...well enough. But I was hungry — I needed more.

Enter the 250 gig Xbox 360 hard drive. Because, in my typical American viewpoint of the world, if some is good, overkill is better.

I transferred over my 20 gig's contents, as well as the thumb drive's life boat supplies, and then decided to go batshit crazy with the downloads...because I still had 200 gigs of space to use. Lost Cause 2 demo? Sure. MLB 2k10? It's probably janky, but what the hell! MotoGP 09/10? Why not! I also installed PES 2010 to the hard drive, and damn — I have been missing out. The difference between my jet-fan-sounding Xbox 360 DVD drive and running a game off the hard drive was incredible; I'm definitely going to have to take a couple hours to install other games I have.

I also got the chance to quickly play a couple rounds of Guitar Hero Arcade last night. A one-sentence review would be that it's an arcade-focused version of Guitar Hero circa Guitar Hero 3 or Guitar Hero: World Tour, but with even looser note hit detection than the console versions of those games. The lag between when a note appeared and when you needed to strum it was, frankly, ridiculous. I've put just a little bit of time into some other games — including enough to go get Broken Sword for the iPhone after hearing a lot of good about it from Nick, and a challenge to Nick in Words with Friends — but mostly it's just been basking in the real, raw power of 250 gigs. I love the smell of overkill in the morning.


I'm as big a proponent as any for games with emotional weight and social relevance — it's a big part of why I want to start making them myself. But I think gaming enthusiasts often are quick to overlook the importance of just having fun in a game.

Just Cause 2 has no weighty morals or long-winded diatribes about the impact of United States military interests in developing nations. It's only concerned with setting the player free in a massive, gorgeous world and letting the campy humor and visceral explosions do the talking. Simply put, it's the most fun I've had with a game in a very long time, and I cannot stress enough just how much I loved every moment of it. Even if open-world games aren't your thing, this is something that simply must be experienced. And with a free demo available on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam, you really don't have much of an excuse.

Oh, and Aaron? I finished the game at 31.50% completion in 17 hours and 31 minutes. Consider the gauntlet thrown, son.

When not gallivanting around the beaches and jungles of Panau, I've been hopelessly sucked into an iPhone game. Words with Friends reminds me of the glory days of Facebook's Scrabulous in that it's a Scrabble knockoff that looks and plays better than the original. For a paltry $1.99 on iPhone or iPad (although that's currently a sale price), you can play games of Scrabble with friends across a variety of platforms. You can play at your own pace, and once it's your turn to play the game will send your phone a push notification. While I'm usually wary about enabling push notifications on my phone for most apps — I sure as hell don't want to be woken up at 4 in the morning because We Rule wants to let me know that my turnips have finished growing — I look forward to each new opportunity to play a new word and turn the tables in my favor. Unfortunately I'm losing all four games I'm currently engaged in.

If Words with Friends sounds like fun, there's also a free, ad-supported version of the game in the App Store. Give it a shot, and send a game invitation to Whymog — I could definitely use the practice.