The Backlog: Go Get Some Sun edition

Can you believe it? A third post in a single week. You'd almost get the impression that we like writing about games.

There's no tongue-in-cheek theme this week. Just...c'mon. Have you looked outside? It's supposed to be sunny and almost 70 degrees. This probably isn't gonna happen again until July, so put down that controller, call off that Icecrown Citadel raid, and grab your iPhone so you can experience the great outdoors...with a bit of an insurance policy in tow, of course.

Doug

Hell hath no fury like a grad school scorned, I guess. The hardest term of the program bit me in the ass this week and last - two presentations, a mid term, and trying to keep up with the readings meant almost no free time this past week.

However, thank god for the iPhone. Words with Friends is the only thing keeping me sane; despite routinely getting my ass kicked, I'm absolutely hooked. And I'm not even cheating anymore!

I also got and put a little time into Broken Sword, too. I love the art style and the audio quality; I really should have bought it when I was in Asia and spending tons of time in airplanes. However, the adventure game genre's quirks - namely the Byzantine puzzle design - means I'm leaning on the hint system. Thank god for that.

Lastly, I've gotten through my first full season in PES 2010. I won a European trophy, and my AS Roma side took the Italian league title to the last game - a head-to-head battle on the last day against Inter Milan. I had to win to take the league title; I could only squeek out a dramatic 3-3 tie, finishing second. Time to reload for next year.

Aaron

Hi. I like Splinter Cell. Do you? Oh my god what a coincidence! Let's gab.

Now that I've finished Conviction and put an adequate amount of time into the co-op element, I feel qualified to discuss the game. The latest Sam Fisher adventure is perhaps his greatest. Chaos Theory is a popular choice (with good reason) whenever someone asks which Splinter Cell title is the best, but without going back and trying Chaos Theory again I'm skeptical of its continued impact after having experienced the petrifying blast of lightning that is a pissed-off Sam Fisher. Conviction breaks barriers in its handling of Splinter Cell's traditional gameplay; it, to a larger extent, impacts the stealth action genre as a whole. Just like in Metal Gear Solid 4 when I noticed how fast combat had become, and how running and gunning was a legitimate course of action for the first time, Splinter Cell: Conviction removes the overwhelming feeling of stealthy hesitancy present in the other games. By hesitancy, I mean that Sam was always worrying about a light meter, his ammo, instant-fail missions and hiding bodies. That was all fun, nine years ago. Times and tastes both change, and Ubisoft Montreal knew exactly what to change to keep the franchise fresh.

The campaign is small, but fulfilling. Kind of like a single slice of cheesecake. Do you like cheesecake? No. Way. Then allow me to continue with the metaphor.

If you've ever been to The Cheesecake Factory, you'll know that their namesake menu item isn't exactly anything to rave about. Well, maybe you like it. I...not so much. But let's disregard taste and simply think about their brand of cake-plus-cheese: Like any successful chain restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory provides its customer base with that same slice of dessert-y goodness at each of the company's 146 establishments. It's mass-market cheesecake. A recipe that likely started out as new, fresh and satisfying is now mass-produced for consumption by Americans everywhere. So you being a person that might like this cheesecake, you're happy with it. Day in and day out (hopefully you don't really eat that much dessert) you eat this cake; your tastes have become scared of trying something new. It's comforting, really -- to know you can get that sweetness whenever you want. But what if one day The Cheesecake Factory threw out its entire menu? What if they said: "You know what? People are eating this same tired recipe all across this great nation, and we need to give them something new. 'I have a dream,' and all that. How about, for once, we just go apeshit and try a whole new recipe for cheesecake? Madness, I tells ya. Madness." So they introduce a brand new product, and it's actually the best cheesecake you've ever had. It doesn't taste like the old stuff; wow, it doesn't even look like it used to. But your taste buds don't lie, and the chefs' decision to push themselves in a risky way paid off. Now we have a wonderful new type of food to get fat from. The end.

Ubisoft was bored of making the same Splinter Cell games year after year. It's not that their stealth concept was broken or unprofitable -- the gods of gaming know I'd have continued buying another iteration of Chaos Theory over and over and over again. But the developers had a vision, and saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the stealth action genre. I'm glad they did, because Splinter Cell Conviction is easily one of the best Xbox 360 exclusives I've purchased. Fortunately for us as players and the videogame industry as providers, change happens all the time in sequels, remakes prequels and downloadable side stories. Change and adaptation are actually encouraged, even when we complain about Halo 23 and God of War 12 being "more of the same." I don't believe that we've ever really played the same game twice; it's just our own personal -- and lofty -- expectations that get in the way of accepting any sort of new advancements in a series. Point is, be thankful that Ubisoft riskily tinkers with its tested formula. Sometimes these leaps of faith fail, but other times they succeed.

Oh, and never expect a successful chain of restaurants to change its menu on a whim due to some "artistic vision" held by the executive chefs.

Nick

I'm a pretty avid gamer -- there's no getting around that. But I've got two seriously debilitating personality flaws that tend to get in the way:

  1. I tend to dislike big-name, triple-A games, even if they deserve their praise and attention
  2. As a result, I'll often spend my money on lesser-known, crappier titles than games I know I'm guaranteed to enjoy

It's for those two reasons that I've avoided the Ratchet and Clank games on PlayStation 3. Based on the little I'd seen and played, I knew they were excellent: with a fine-tuned fluidity in motion and rich, expressive art direction, the series has clearly never been in finer form than on Sony's latest platform. But for whatever reason I'd always put off purchasing the games for myself. As a relative mainstay franchise, I knew I'd be able to walk into a game store years down the road and pick up a copy on the cheap eventually.

After about fifteen minutes with the currently half-off downloadable episode, Quest for Booty, I realized I had been kind of an idiot. My $7.50 bought me a few hours of that well-designed Ratchet and Clank platformer/shooter hybrid that I'd loved so many years ago, and now I can't wait to check out the other two games. If you've got a PS3 and you're looking for a good game to play through over the weekend, you can't go wrong with this one.