The Backlog: Party Like it's 2010 edition

The Backlog is, of course, for the games we've been playing as of late and, ideally, games that are brand new. The cutting edge!

That's how it turns into our Backlog being full of brand-new bangers like...um...Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Quest IX? Riiiiiiiiiight. Well. At least we've got things to say about these games, plus honest-to-god newer wares, too.

Anyway. To the Backlog!

Nick

When you finish Portal 2, you unlock an achievement whose description is simply "That just happened." Truer words have never been written.

The single-player portion of Portal 2 was satisfying, cleverly told and just the right length. Smartly broken up into three acts, it logically extends the formula of the first game with some clever but not altogether earth-shattering additions.

Cooperative play is where things get downright revolutionary. Introducing two players and four portals is as mind-bending as the original Portal experience was, and the way GLaDOS taunts you and your partner's friendship is wonderfully evil. I have yet to finish it, but it's not for lack of wanting to. I'm just afraid of spoiling such a rare and inspired experience by rushing through it.

I'm on a short trip out to California this weekend so I won't be playing many games, but I am planning on wrapping up both Puzzle Agent and Sword and Sworcery while airborne. To look back at the iPhone just three years ago and realize just how far it's come in terms of hardware capability and ingenuity of software design — hell, there wasn't even an App Store three years ago! — puts in perspective just how incredible a market mobile gaming has become.

Tyler

I’ve been playing video games for nearly twenty years now. It's been longer if you count the times when my babysitter brought over her Sega Master System or when I visited my cousins with their NES. I’ve owned more than a dozen consoles, and I don’t even want to consider how many titles I’ve played. I’ve long since understood that as far as entertainment goes, games are an imperfect medium. At a young age, especially when we were playing on cartridges, it was easy to think of games less as software and more as toys. However, these days when games are burned on to discs or downloaded and when your console’s value can be determined in gigabytes of storage and is expected to connect to the internet, the lines between a computer and a game console have blurred. And of course, where you have software, you’re bound to have bugs, glitches and other such impediments.

In the previous Backlog I mentioned years ago I built my own PC and played many a PC game. Two of my favorites were the much-revered Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games by BioWare and Obsidian Entertainment. I loved those games, and they were likely the first western-style role-playing games I truly adored. But oh, did I ever have problems with them. In addition to difficulties that came with my Frankenstein machine, both titles were just generally broken games that, while fun, had problems. These ranged from the minor (such as textures failing to appear and party members clipping through environments) to the major (the entire game crashing, corrupted save files). When I think back on those games, though, it's not frustration but nostalgia.

This week’s PSN-is-down coping mechanism is another BioWare game, the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2. It’s still my favorite game of 2010, repackaged with a little extra polish and most of the DLC I missed out on. The port is not without its downsides, however. The motion comic Mass Effect: Genesis that comes with the PSN variant of the Cerberus Network is a less-than-adequate substitute for actually playing the first Mass Effect and transferring your save. The decisions are extremely limited, but the larger issue is that the few that existed were borked in my play-through. The way NPCs referenced my actions in the previous act in the series made it sound like an episode of TV’s Fringe with my Shepard moving between two parallel universes with completely different choices. Sometimes Kaiden would be alive, sometimes Ashley; maybe I saved the council, maybe I didn’t. It was frustrating in a game I love so greatly for the ability to craft your own personal continuity.

The worst part was that I wasn’t fully aware how serious the issue was until roughly twelve hours into the game. Luckily, despite PSN being down, game updates can still be issued if your PS3 has a network connection; the recent patch ended the parallel universes and brought my Shepard back to normalcy in a right-thinking universe where Kaiden is very much dead.

With the complexity of games, size of development teams and expectations of consumers rising each year, the issue of bugs or glitches in games is likely only going to get worse. And I hate to be the cynic, but I think it may be poor judgment to assume that PSN’s recent woes will be the last time one of the major online infrastructures goes down. Might this be the longest and most severe? Possibly, lord knows I hope so, but it would be foolish to say this is the end of outages for these services. The number of people playing games online globally is only going to rise, as will the bandwidth demands on games and networks, and of course there will always be hackers. I wouldn’t ask anyone to forgive Sony but this is, has been and always will be a medium with flaws.

And I love it, warts and all.

Doug

A funny thing happened to me this week: I ran my DS Lite's battery almost all the way down. At the very least, I ran it down to the point where the light went from green to red and I had to madly scramble and remember where the charger wound up. For one reason or another, I've always liked the idea of handheld gaming much more than the actual execution; the time I used my DS the most was in college, where it pulled double-duty as a Japanese-English dictionary. When you have a couple of consoles sitting there hooked up to the TV, why bother with the little Nintendo handheld? I guess it's the same reason why we bother with any of these consoles — because it has some damn good games.

Without much left uncovered on the 360, I started playing a couple of my DS games again. I've been intending to get back into Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for ages, and that's definitely been fun. The gameplay is incredibly well-balanced and fun, but man, it's kind of frustrating dying at the boss and having to go through the entire dungeon all over again. And since I've never gotten past that first dungeon, it feels like Groundhog Day in the worst possible way.

So I jumped back over to Dragon Quest IX, a game that...yes, kicked me back to town if I lost against the boss. Funny, that. I raved about this game last summer when I bought it and dumped some time into it, but after getting stuck and needing to level up, down it went and it became forgotten. I gave it another shot after seeing it still in my DS when I loaded up Zelda, and also listening to a recent 8-4 Play podcast where the discussion of Dragon Quest's English translation re-sparked my interest.

Regardless, I've probably played it ten hours this week, gotten through three or four dungeons and bosses, and unraveled the story even moreso. I know the story isn't exactly the point of DQIX, but I'm enjoying it, despite the awkwardly silent protagonist (and that giving him my name makes him stand out in the Celestrian world). However, the combat system has started to open up, even as I realize that it's going to keep going forever. My characters are right around level 20, and that's on their first jobs, too, so I'm going to be involved with this for a while.

Between the simple yet fun combat system, the charming Dragon Quest aesthetic and the surprisingly touching story, I'm hooked. I'm even thinking about taking the dive and picking up Dragon Quest VIII soon, though I think I should finish one before starting another up.

Aaron

All I had time for this week was a few minutes, maybe a brief hour, of Portal 2. And no: I still haven't finished it.

But the following three days will be productive. I plan to spend those precious hours of not-work going through my ever-increasing tower of videogames. Be it Portal 2, Dragon Age II, Metro 2033, Crysis 2, DJ Hero 2 or the handful of smaller add-ons and expanded content I've purchased on a whim over the last month, I'm going to get shit done. I want my plate to be cleared and squeaky clean by the time L.A Noire launches in a little over a week.

Now if someone could stop making me purchase things on Steam, I'd be in your debt. Sometimes having a little extra spending money is a total drag. And man do I ever look American/white/middle class for writing that.