Backlog: Summer Vacation Edition

Much like a bad sunburn, we're back after a little mid-summer hibernation. Aaron is still out in the Oregon woods getting his camp counselor act on, but Nick and Doug have been snug in civilization and playing games. Doug, now properly equipped with a TV from the 21st century, has been building cities and breaking tackles, while Nick has been matching three, hitting apexes and staring down a worthy opponent. All very thrilling.

But enough of that, let's get on to the gaming.

Doug

It's been such a long time...apologies. But in that time, I've gotten completely hooked on a game, re-addicted to another, paid the annual EA Sports Tax, and added a new piece of electronics to my repertoire.

First, the biggest news: I finally have a proper, working HDTV. The Worst Projection TV Ever has finally been dragged out to the great electronics store in the sky and in its place I have a high-quality 1080p, 120hz product of the Republic of Korea. Needless to say, I've been going through some of my older games just to see what they look like on a "real" TV — and wow. Games like Mass Effect 2 and Forza 3 really come to life when you can actually see what you're doing. Perhaps strangely, my PES 2010 game has suffered — however, when you go from 4:3 to widescreen, that can definitely alter your techniques.

I've helped re-energize interest in Words with Friends recently. Many of my friends in grad school also have iPhones, and when I discovered one of them had discovered our favorite Scrabble substitute, it was on. Word quickly spread, and I now have 10 games active. It's almost overkill. It's also really funny to see when people wake up in the morning, based on when they play turns that were left overnight.

I feel really late to the party, but I've also been hooked to Civilization: Revolution in the last few weeks. I remember hearing all the acclaim for CivRev when it was released a few years ago, but hadn't given the game a shot. After mulling it over, I downloaded the trial version on my 360...then turned around and snapped it up immediately. What a brilliant, addictive game. It's amazing what you discover about yourself in CivRev — I prefer to develop my internal resources and cities first, developing them into bastions of technology and culture, before breaking out the guns of war.

Lastly, this week I paid the piper and picked up NCAA Football 11. I know it's a yearly annualized sequel, and I get it because I Always Buy It, but in this case it's really paid off. Not much in terms of menus or back-end of the game has changed, but a lot of the presentation and — crucially — the gameplay has been evolved in very good ways. More thoughts and comments regarding the game in the future, for sure, but right now it's looking like a worthy purchase.

Nick

It's been hard for me to find something worth writing about when it comes to games lately. That's got nothing to do with either my interest in writing or in games, both of which have been going strong in the past few months. Instead, I feel like a couple of things have happened: I've grown more critical of games as my expectations have rise, and as a result of not wanting to sound like a constant pessimist, I've decided to just keep quiet.

But in the interest of trying to come up with something useful, here are a few games I've been playing that I'd recommend.

Despite some glaring omissions cut from the original game, LucasArts' remake of the second Monkey Island has made a strong first impression. The series' trademark voice actors are back once again to lend it the right sort of humor, and the character art has seen a significant improvement.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is the original match-'n-slash puzzle-RPG hybrid, and even though it's been three years since it came out, it's still got some serious chops in terms of how obscenely addictive the experience can be. I bought the game on Xbox Live when I had my wisdom teeth out, and between the painkillers I was taking and the ridiculous amount of things to do within Puzzle Quest's zen-like "match-three-shapes" gameplay, I was pretty blissed out for a couple of days immediately after the surgery. It wasn't until the last week or so that I finally dug back in and tackled the final two-thirds of the game. Sure, the writing is bad, the artwork is hackneyed and the whole Puzzle Quest universe feels like a lazy cliche, but the game itself is so strangely compelling that it's hard not to fall in love with it. The sequel was recently released to strong reviews, but if you haven't played the first it's still well worth the price of admission.

I'm also well into season four of six in Forza Motorsport 3. Although I'd spent a couple hours with the game before we deliberated on our top ten games of last year, I didn't immerse myself in the game until recently. I'm not a huge racing sim devotee (Gran Turismo 3 was the last one that I really "finished"), but Forza 3's great event structure and pacing, believably tactile racing and buckets of shiny, beautiful car porn have already given me more than my money's worth. The only thing I haven't tried yet is racing online, but I'm pretty sure I'd just end up getting totally smoked.

And last, but not least: I've dipped my toes into Dragon Quest IX. Remember what Nietzsche said about the abyss? Yeah.