The Backlog: Civil War Edition

I don't care who you are, if you're an Oregonian, this is a weekend you care about. It's Civil War weekend, and as proud (if a bit underemployed) alumni of the University of Oregon, all three of us have a side to take in the game. Good luck getting much done in Portland tomorrow between noon and 4 pm, and god speed to anyone driving south on I-5 from Portland who isn't going to the game. I don't think it hurts us to take an excessively pro-Ducks stance, so here goes:

LET'S GO DUCKS!

We do have the usual Backlog content to go with the heaping of school pride, though. Nick's been stabbin' fools in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Doug's tackling some single-player games passed over during the year, and Aaron has been finding a balance between work, games, and the Wasteland.

Nick

So there's this book I was working on? Anyway, I guess it's out now. I wouldn't really know much about that kind of thing.

Now, though, I'm faced with an overabundance of free time -- that is, until panic sets in and I spend my days focused only on job applications and the crippling guilt that comes from having lived at home for four months now. But in the meantime, I'm hoping to finish sampling games as we lead up to our Game of the Year feature later this month. Let's talk about some games, okay? Is that fine?

As is my custom, I demolished Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's single player mode and have been climbing the ranks of multiplayer. I had my doubts about that series getting a direct sequel a year after Assassin's Creed 2 did so much to improve upon the original, but it delivered in just about every way I could have hoped for. Granted it's much more of an incremental improvement over its predecessor, but I still think it's safe to say that Brotherhood is the strongest overall game in the series.

Playing Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands makes me wonder if Ubisoft has any idea what made 2003's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time such a landmark success (and, if I'm remembering right, my declared favorite game of that year). Like most flagship series under the Ubisoft helm, it's had its fair share of ups and downs, ranging from the unabashed shittiness of Warrior Within, the relatively successful conclusion of that trilogy with The Two Thrones, and 2008's series reboot, which remains one of my favorite current-gen experiences -- so as you can imagine, most people thought it was stupid. The Forgotten Sands is the product of a company groping in the dark for whatever serendipitous formula made The Sands of Time a classic, and it sees the series returning to an almost carbon copy of that exact formula. However, the crucial elements -- the balanced pacing between exploration and combat, the storybook charm and narration, the stuffy Prince -- are all watered down. Yeah, it's an okay game, and if you never played the old trilogy you might get a lot out of it. But to me, Forgotten Sands is kind of just sad, you know?

I also spent an hour with 3D Dot Game Heroes, a tediously paced and, frankly, pretty boring homage to The Legend of Zelda. It's clever and weird and unlike much of anything else out there, so you'd think I'd go wild for it. But for whatever reason, I feel like it hasn't done much to spark any sort of attachment for me. If it had a stronger identity or it was more self-aware with its Zelda imitations and references to gaming culture, then maybe I'd stick with it. But so far, it's a pretty bland experience all around.

And then, at the opposite end of the spectrum from Brotherhood, there's Fable 3. I'm a few hours in, but I don't think I've seen a lazier sequel from a big-name studio this generation. I'm trying my damnedest to engage with this game, but it's just sort of sitting there, twiddling its thumbs and occasionally humming under its breath, staring vacantly out into the distance. This is not a game that was ready for the world to see.

Doug

Much like Nick, this is the time of the year where all three of us have to get caught up on some of the games we may have missed this year. Thanks to the largesse of my chums, I've been able to borrow and put some time into a couple of the titles that may be up for our Game of the Year award.

I'm about three or four hours into Bayonetta and I can't believe I haven't gotten to the game sooner. I mean, it must be cheap used by now, right? Regardless what you think of the game's setting, cut-scenes or art direction (to put it kindly), the actual fighting engine and in-game combat is really, really fun. Seeking out attacks to dodge then activate Witch Time can feel a bit hokey, but bouncing from target to target and kicking ass feels appropriately...err...bad-ass. The mechanics are great, and I can tell I've barely scratched the surface. Time to kick the difficulty down from normal and see what Bayonetta has, because I do not have time to repeat bosses four or five times each.

The other single-player game I've taken a dive into is Halo: Reach. That game really does not fuck around — you get dropped into Noble Team, it assumes you've played a Halo game or two before, and you get stuck into fighting the Covenant quickly. I barely ever play first-person shooters — I actually think the last one I spent time with may have been Halo 3 — but I've enjoyed the Halo series for a long time, and especially love the way they integrate story into the proceedings. As well, the firefights are obviously well done (great encounters have been at the heart of every Halo game) and the weapons have that heft. Picking Reach up feels like reminiscing with an old friend in a good way; I've heard this is one of the best single-player campaigns in the Halo series, and ends on a poignant note. I'm looking forward to that.

Inspired by a friend finishing up the campaign in Mass Effect 2, I've spent a good five or six hours with my second playthrough this week. I'm into the second half of the game, about to start up the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC content, and also at the point where your Shepard's powers have blossomed. The beginning of the game really relies on gunplay, but as you unlock and level up biotic and engineering powers, the combat gets better. Playing through the story again reminds me how much I loved the game the first time around. Definitely a Game of the Year contender.

Of course, a week can't go by without playing more sports games. I've got Nick salivating to dig into NBA 2K11; I'm looking forward to teaching him the ropes in the coming weeks. I've also done another F1 2010 race weekend and spent some time in NCAA Football 11 guiding the Ducks to victory as well. Hopefully they win the day on Saturday, too, and get to the National Championship in January.

Aaron

Working has its benefits. For one, I actually have an income, which lets me do things like eat, drink and be merry (and pay rent!). The only problem with all the working I've been doing is I've had little time to myself to play games. I'm coping with that fact, and I just need to figure out a schedule that permits more time to relax with a videogame or two.

This week I finished Fallout: New Vegas. It was kind of a let down, but I attribute that to following the "good guy" path and allying with the New California Republic.

With my wandering in the wasteland complete, I dove into Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood more, and I'm enjoying what I've played. I don't think I've explored enough of Rome yet to be able to tell the game apart from AC2, but what I have seen impresses me. Still, it's more incremental than revolutionary, but I think it's what most fans wanted anyway.

I also received my used copy of Forza Motorsport 3 on Tuesday, and poured three hours into the game a few days later. The experience system is genius because it gives me a reason to keep playing besides simply collecting cars and unlocking tournaments. It's a shame I waited so long to play it (It really is – Doug).