The Backlog: That's What She Said edition

Our wondrous Backlog returns this week, and it's massive; really, a two-for-one sort of deal.

For those out there who read these posts, I bet it's easy to tell when pre-break introductions do a terrible job of framing our editors' gaming experiences over the past seven or more days. In case you were wondering, this is one of those bad introductions. I'm not sure where I'm going with the Michael Scott joke and woefully overused phrase in the title, but I promise to make you just as confused as I am.

However, Nick kindly bombards us with -- and I haven't checked this to be certain -- the largest block of text to ever appear in a Backlog entry. It sort of justifies my attempts at referencing size and such an immature joke. But his thing is just really huge.

That's what she said.

Nick:

Last week was insane. Between finishing the layout on the Silicon Sasquatch book and finally diving into National Novel Writing Month, I'd been busy with just about anything except games. But in recent days I've been lucky enough to spend some time with a lot of great games. A LOT of them. Seriously, this might take a while.

Foremost among them is Rock Band 3, where I've knocked out almost every achievement that isn't related to pro guitar or three-part harmonies. I like rushing through the achievements in these games because then I feel like I can just focus on playing the songs and having fun, which is my favorite part. Or maybe I'm just compulsive? Either way, it'll be a long time until I 100% the game -- Harmonix announced the Squier guitar controller won't be out until March 2011. In the meantime, I'm playing my real guitar all the time to get my chops up, so to speak. I won't make any excuses — I'm a terrible guitar player, mostly because I've been teaching myself in bits and pieces over the last few years. But when you toss in concepts like leaderboards and fully charted guitar parts for songs I've always wanted to learn, like Radar Love, I Can See for Miles and, um, Portions for Foxes, there's a great deal of motivation to become proficient.

Having exhausted Call of Duty: Black Ops (or as it's affectionately known, CodBlops), I've been sneaking in a few rounds on a borrowed copy of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood whenever I have the time. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dying to delve into the single-player campaign, which appears to be easily the equal of Assassin's Creed 2 in scope and quality, but I just can't resist the urge to fulfill my face-and-neck-stabbing quota in its innovative online mode. The closest parallel I can think of is The Ship, an odd little multiplayer game I picked up on Steam about four years ago. But being a pre-Modern Warfare online game, The Ship was devoid of mechanics like persistent progression — something that works exceptionally well in Brotherhood. As you increase in rank and unlock additional modes, how you outfit your assassin has a huge bearing on your strategy. For instance, there's a cat-and-mouse mode where you'll play one round trying to stay incognito as the hunted and another round trying to kill the other team as much as possible, and you'll quickly learn the nuances of proper smoke bomb and hidden gun usage. Although it'd be unfair to call Brotherhood's multiplayer truly unique, it is the most compelling and original competitive online multiplayer experience I've encountered this year.

I also picked up a copy of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West on the cheap from Amazon last week, and although I'm only a couple of chapters in, I'm already attached to its characters and world. It's not a perfect game, but its charm and believability are more than enough to win me over. I'm looking forward to seeing where their journey takes them.

I picked up Pac-Man CE DX on Wednesday at about 7:30 p.m. By 8:05 p.m., I had earned every achievement and cemented myself firmly in the top 5% of the leaderboards. Don't take that as a knock against the game, though; it's an innovative and thoroughly entertaining spin on the Pac-Man formula. It takes the precedent set by Pac-Man CE's clever evolution of the decades-old classic and moves it even further into the realm of the absurd. Now adorned with the prestigious title of "DX", Pac-Man now picks up chains of hundreds of ghosts simultaneously chasing him and, in a first for the series, can now fight back with bombs. It's a brave new world for the puck-shaped protagonist, and I think Namco deserves some serious recognition for being so audacious Pac-Man. It's the sort of interpretation that's risky and unexpected, much like Space Invaders Infinity Gene, and it's similarly successful.

That same night, I also finally earned the last two outstanding achievements I had in Just Cause. Not Just Cause 2 -- the first one. You remember it, right? That clunky, buggy, up-rezzed port of an original Xbox game? Now, look: I'm not proud. I'm sure you know me well enough by now to know that I don't take pride in my disgustingly inflated gamerscore, which just broke the 60,000 threshhold this week. Nor am I proud to report that I logged a grand total of 27 hours in Just Cause, at least half of which I earned after finishing its sequel. But the strange magic that the original game possessed hasn't been diminished by time or by its superior sequel. In fact, because it's such a different game from Just Cause 2, I found it relatively easy to slip back into even in spite of the 40+ hours I spent with the sequel earlier this year. Yes, it's repetitive and frustratingly designed, but it has a satisfyingly consistent flow that is hard to find elsewhere. And if nothing else, it's a great vehicle for listening to new music or catching up on podcasts. It was easily worth the eight dollars I spent on a used copy. So if you're reading this and in the area and you'd like my old copy, just drop me a line and I'd be happy to give it to you. If you've got the patience for an old, inconsistent, experimental open-world, game, you're in for a great time.

Finally, I picked up a used copy of Fallout: New Vegas on the cheap last week, and after about fifteen hours of wandering the American Southwest, I'm feeling content, if a little bored. If Fallout 3 felt a little too much to me like a recycled Oblivion, then New Vegas is that same formula diluted even further. The combat is exactly as I remembered it, which is to say it's too much about math and not enough about actual aiming skill. It's an issue that's only confounded even more by New Vegas' addition of iron-sight aiming, which doesn't seem to change the fact that every shot is nothing more than a dice roll. Getting around is often tedious, too, but maybe it's more of an issue for me now that games like Borderlands have come out with useful fast-travel vehicles. I'm sure trying to rewrite the old Oblivion engine to include functional vehicles (because Oblivion's horses were anything but functional) would be a colossal waste of time with the inevitable new engine on the way, but still, it would be a lot less frustrating and more entertaining to be able to ride around the postnuclear United States on a badass motorcycle.

A boy can dream, I guess.

Doug:

This week, the Game Dev Story bug bit in a big way. I've hunted and thought long and hard about where the most addictive point in the game is; I mean, there has to be a turning point where you HAVE to play "just one more round," and without concrete level breaks in the game, it's hard to tell. However, the closest approximation is the development of a new game. I've found myself rushing to decide what my studio's next title is going to be — I mean, you don't want your employees sitting around bored and unproductive, right?!?! — and then looking down at my iPhone, exasperated. "I can't believe you tricked me into another round of this," I sigh.

Ah well.

I'm now on my third play-through, and to the point where I'm cranking out Hall of Fame games one after another. I've also since churned out two consoles, made a snowboard racing game that sold almost 70 million copies, and turned three employees into fully leveled-up Hackers. There's something to be said about Japanese games that are as broken as this.

I picked up Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on Xbox Live Arcade, too, and that is a quality beat-em-up game. Difficult, a little tricky at times, but packed full of charm and nice nods to the movie and comic series (which I do still need to read). I think Nick and Aaron both bought the game, but on PlayStation Network instead. I need some sidekicks to kick the seven evil exes' asses with me! Drop a line if you want to throw down sometime.

Lastly, I've tailed off on F1 2010 a bit (still winning races for Ferrari in my second season) but invested that time back into NBA 2K11. I've been playing some single-player career mode games and it's addicting but man, I am Not Good at basketball games anymore. Fortunately, my Portland Trail Blazers have Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge healthy, so I can drive to the hoop at will and also have a great low-post game. Once I figure out 2KSports' byzantine web service, I'll try to use their in-game photo exporting feature to show what my Portland Trail Blazers can do. However, it's really frustrating to see the AI go off on runs...no matter how accurate it may be. That's definitely a positive for what's been hailed as one of the best sports games by reviewers.

Aaron:

I committed myself to lots and lots of Fallout: New Vegas over the past two weeks -- around 30 hours' worth.

So...that wraps up my discussion about all the gaming I've done lately!

Honestly, videogames have only been my priority from a work standpoint since this past Monday. I started a new job that heavily involves them (something we're supposed to keep quiet, thanks to NDAs [though it's nothing developmental]), and when I get home from my 6 am to 2:30 pm daily shift I just pop in New Vegas and keep trudging through the 15 quests I have left to do. I still love the game, enough to keep doing my New Vegas Travel Guide -- new post next week, I promise! -- but I've had to put a heavy emphasis on adjusting to my newly busy life. I also moved out into Portland last weekend, which was stressful. But I finally feel like things are coming into some sense of order for the first time in years.

I guess I'll be playing some Who's That Flying?! this weekend for review purposes, and finally open the copy of Enslaved that I got last week during the same Amazon deal Nick took advantage of. I'm also tempted to purchase the new Assassin's Creed, even though I need to be frugally responsible with my cash flow. Which is lame. I know.