The Backlog: Mobsters, Motorcars and Minecraft edition

At Silicon Sasquatch, one of our strengths — yes, we do have strengths — is our diversity of taste. Doug loves games where you drive a car in circles for hours, which Aaron will find baffling; surely his period-piece mafia adventure is a lot more fun. And both of them will think I'm absolutely out of my mind when I tell them I spent most of my free time this week hollowing out an entire mountain because, um, that's just what I wanted to do.

So that's what we're focusing on this week: the things that make each of us special.

Aaron:

Let's talk, in brief, about Mafia II.

I'm near the end of the story, and it's been quite above and beyond the typical open-world video game experience. The first Mafia is one of my all-time favorites, and its sequel doesn't disappoint, even after an eight-year hiatus for the series. Vito, the protagonist, is a blatant Hollywood stereotype (or perhaps a caricature) for 1950's mobsters, but the clichés are offset by a diverse plot flowing with lively action and unflinching suspense. There's a lot to say about the game, which was panned by numerous critics upon its release, though I will have to save my thoughts for a full article. Suffice it to say, Mafia II has kept me sitting neatly in my computer chair playing for hours at a time.

Civilization V also found its way to my desktop device this week; now I actually get all of the jokes about its addictive nature. I'm still only on my first random campaign -- saved after spending five hours building an economic superpower this past Monday -- in which I'm acting as the Siamese kingdom working alongside the Iroquois to take over the world. We just defeated Caesar and felled Rome. That was cathartic. Oh, and Gandhi was our BFF for awhile, but that was over fast. How fast? Well, my Iroquois neighbors gave me numerous amounts of much-needed iron, so in the 10 minutes after I had signed a treaty of cooperation with India the Iroquois then asked to team up and defeat the Indian pacifists -- I couldn't object.

Poor Gandhi tried to negotiate a surrender with my multi-national alliance. We had none of that.

Doug:

I've spent a lot of my time with Formula 1 2010 this past week. I spent some time playing online in NCAA Football 11 and the Madden NFL 11 demo (for my editorial earlier this weekend), yes, but mostly in F1 getting to grips with the worldwide racing circus. I don't want to go too far in-depth since I'll be penning a review on the game next week, but I'm having a good time with the game in spite of its faults. I've loved auto racing and the Formula 1 series for years, and this is the best console adaptation since the PlayStation and Psygnosis' games.

I put a few hours into Mass Effect 2, too, and once I got re-calibrated to the combat controls and technique, I really started enjoying my second playthrough. I got through a couple of the story missions earlier this week, too. As much as I want to play through as both a good and bad character, I just can't bring myself to become space's biggest asshole — I guess I'm too much of a nice guy to feel good about going through with that, even if the results can be hilarious (SPOILER SPOILER SPOOOOOOOILARS). But I'm still a bit away from the Lair of the Shadow Broker content, so it's time to continue on down that path.

Also, I think I've finally met my match in Civilization Revolution. I moved my way up quickly to playing on King difficulty, and I recently started playing on Emperor — but man, trying to get the game's economic victory that way? Not pretty. Didn't help that I got dropped into a bad starting place where the only real expansion options were an archipelago. I'll have to re-try, but I'm now even more afraid what awaits on Deity. Ugh.

Oh, and this week's delay of NBA Elite 11 to 2011 makes the NBA franchise choice easier than it once was — after playing the demos again, NBA 2K11 is superb. Elite looks and feels like a game that needs more time in the oven, and I'm amazed that EA  is giving them the time to perfect the game.

Nick:

Before we get into the crux of my situation — the reason why I'm losing sleep and dreaming of  grandiose excavations in a cubist's paradise — let's talk about the other games I've been playing. Like Space Invaders Infinity Gene! That's a pretty good game. You should check out my review and grab the trial on your platform of choice.

My transformation from a brain-dead drone to micromanaging caffeine junkie is well underway in StarCraft II thanks in large part to some hands-on tutoring from my friend James, who wrote our review of the game. I've got the first three minutes of each game pretty much nailed down to a science, which — surprisingly — hasn't made the game duller. If anything, that routine is liberating. It gives you time to assess the layout of the map and to plot your unit strategy accordingly. I'm still in the practice league, but I'm undefeated so far.

Okay, so. Let's talk about Minecraft. Specifically, let's talk about why it's so engaging for a game that lacks a goal or any concrete sense of progression.

I think it all comes down to the fact that no other world-building game is as accessible and unexpectedly rewarding as Minecraft is. There's no complex quest chain, no tutorial to plod through, no difficult controls to master; really, it's pretty much just a point-and-click game where you can build (or destroy, if you're as stupid as I was in the above picture) just about anything you can imagine.

I spent a few hours mining out the majority of a mountain in an offline game before joining a server my friend was hosting, and that's when this craziness ensued. Instead of fumbling my way through a largely deserted world (save for some creepy zombies that wanted to tear me apart) by myself, we were able to collaborate in building structures, crafting objects, and hunting down rare materials. It's surprising how naturally Minecraft lends itself to a cooperative online experience.

But if you're already struggling with your time-management skills, you might want to think carefully before buying Minecraft. Between StarCraft II, Civilization V and Minecraft, I pretty much have to exile myself from the house for most of the day just to make sure I get things done on time.