The Backlog: This is Why We Play edition

We're celebrating the joy of gaming this week. Sometimes, it takes a little time away to appreciate how great gaming is; sometimes, it just strikes you after coming back to a recent classic. Other times, it'll sink in despite frustrations. Doug has hit the track again, Tyler has wound through the Mass Effect 2 DLC, and Nick has finally settled down in the great state of Texas and has time to play lots of games again. So without further ado, on to the Backlog!

Nick

After what has seemed like a vast expanse of time without digital entertainment, I'm finally back in the saddle. I re-upped on my Xbox Live gold subscription and started digging into the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta test, which I'd sincerely forgotten was even underway. I bought Bulletstorm based on its own merits, after all, and given how totally disappointing Gears of War 2 was both online and off I really wasn't all that interested in being chainsawed repeatedly by stoned twentysomethings online yet again. But I'm a man who writes about the video games, and I don't want to shirk my responsibility. So after a quick patch download, I was running around as Marcus Fenix and digging the familiar thrill of roadie running from cement barricade to cement barricade.

Ten minutes later, I'd been slaughtered a half-dozen times and had failed to kill even a single opponent. I'm officially done with Gears of War 3's multiplayer.

I'm not surprised, though; Gears' multiplayer offerings have never done it for me. As a co-op shooter, though, the original Gears is largely unsurpassed even today, and I've got high hopes for Epic's conclusion to the trilogy on that front.

In other news, I finally got to partake in an honest-to-goodness Rock Band night last night — the first since I moved to Austin. I can't begin to describe how awesome an experience Rock Band is when you've got a few friends, a good speaker setup and plenty of beer. Absolutely unparalleled multiplayer fun. I just hope Harmonix manages to keep innovating for its next release; clearly the now-traditional formula isn't a commercial magic bullet anymore, and frankly, I feel like Rock Band has pretty much hit its apex. Unless the next entry goes full-bore into teaching real instruments and allowing for recording, mixing and distribution of music, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of room left for development within the traditional Rock Band formula.

I've been flying, gliding and jet-packing my way through Pilotwings Resort's brief but altogether enjoyable series of challenges. At forty bucks, it's sure not the best value out there, but it excels as a pick-up-and-play experience. I'm finding that the real meat of the game is in its free-roaming exploration mode, which has plenty of objects to track down and secrets to discover. If nothing else, it's a very relaxing way to unwind after a long day, and the 3D effect really makes for an engrossing experience. It gives me hope for the long-term potential of the 3DS platform.

Now that PSN is back up, I'm hoping to finally purchase a few great downloadable games that I'd been holding out on, like the surprisingly excellent Might & Magic Clash of Heroes. But even without a functioning online infrastructure, I've still managed to have a great time playing through God of War III and engaging in a few rounds of the thoroughly brutal and incredibly satisfying Mortal Kombat.

Let's start with God of War III. I'm nearing the end of the game, or at least I'm pretty sure I'm close to the end, because there really aren't that many gods left to kill. I'm racking my brain and seeking out the most obscure reaches of Greek mythology, and nope — Kratos has pretty much concluded his deicidal rampage. I'm having a whole lot more fun with that game than I ever imagined possible, especially considering how lukewarm I always was on the combat in the first two. But God of War III is so smartly designed and finely tuned that I have to admit that it's truly an excellent game. (Somewhere in Japan, Tyler just fist-pumped - Ed.) I'm glad to see such an important series go out on a high note.

As for Mortal Kombat, let's just say that I never liked the games all that much in the first place. Sure, it was a huge deal when it first came out — everyone remembers the nudality and playable Goro rumors — but I never thought it had the polish or the replayability that made Street Fighter II so great. The violence was kinda cool, I guess, but really, Mortal Kombat was and always has been kind of a one-trick pony.

But the new Mortal Kombat? It's actually pretty fucking fantastic.

I haven't dug into the single-player story mode, which I hear is shockingly robust, but the pure one-on-one and tag-team versus combat is seriously top-notch stuff. Characters feel distinct and balanced, and the visuals and sound work are unparalleled in any fighting game to date. I can't wait to pick up my own copy in the near future.

But before that happens, I've got a date with L.A. Noire. And of course, I'd be making a terrible mistake if I didn't remind everyone that Chrono Trigger is coming out for the Wii's Virtual Console today. If you've never played it — and really, why haven't you? — it truly is the best 16-bit roleplaying game, and it's perhaps my absolute favorite game ever. Trust me: If you have a Wii and eight dollars, you can't go wrong with Chrono Trigger.

Tyler

I’ve had a relatively busy week here and was left with very little free time. The few moments I managed to squeak in to my hectic schedule were spent putting the finishing touches on my PS3 play-through of one of this generations finest gaming experiences, Mass Effect 2. I also apologize for being late to the party, I’m usually a very punctual person, but I have finally completed the Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC packs.

The former left me rather unsatisfied. It reminded me of a more polished version of the Bring Down the Sky DLC for the first Mass Effect. I say more polished because at least with Overlord, there is some variety in the environments, but both epitomize the kind of DLC that doesn’t work in this series. They are side missions with little to no bearing on the overall stories or characters and leave little lasting impact on the narrative the player is weaving with their Commander Shepard. Also, both are chock full of vehicular combat and traversal...a style of gameplay Bioware has yet to really grasp. It’s not to say the Hammerhead hover-tank isn’t an improvement on the Mako from ME1, but it’s still not something I have any desire to spend any amount of time with.

On the other hand, Lair of the Shadow Broker might be the finest piece of new content BioWare has ever constructed for one of their games. The gameplay mirrors the multitude of recruitment and loyalty missions in the standard campaign — combat from cover, use powers, shoot bad guys — however, the story has Shepard working directly with a Liara T'soni, a teammate and potential ex-love interest from the first game. I wish we had more missions directly tying events in Mass Effect 2 to it’s predecessor because the franchise excels when there is that sense of narrative cohesion. Lair of the Shadow Broker is rewarding, not only in the context of Mass Effect 1 and 2, but because it has implications that will play a pivotal role in the final act, now due early next year.

Video games, for better or for worse, are more than something myself and the other editors and contributors of Sasquatch do in our free time. Even when we’re not playing games, we’re thinking about them, we’re reading about them and of course, writing about them. The past week-plus has been especially newsworthy, with cover stories from several different publications focused on Mass Effect 3. Ordinarily, news of a delay of the release of a highly anticipated title would perturb me, but I could not be happier about the game’s move to early 2012. There are plenty of games I’m looking forward in 2011 and besides, a Q1 release worked out rather well for Mass Effect 2. Plus, I selfishly  want BioWare to spend as much time as is economically feasible to make the end of the trilogy the satisfying conclusion it needs to be.

Doug

I have admit something to you guys: I feel like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel here. I'm still on the mother of all new-game fasts (save sipping from the iOS games trough) but L.A. Noire is about to test my patience in a major way. I've been a sucker for Rockstar's games on the current gen, and the thought that it leans more toward "adventure" instead of "go fuck around in a city" is peeeeeeeeerfectly fine with me. Being a noir detective and combining GTA with Phoenix Wright sounds like exactly what I want from a game right now.

But that's a purchase away. What I've been digging into, though, is returning to Formula 1 2010. One of my friends started digging in to the game and it gave me the bug to head back out to the track and work on securing my second championship. I'd been dreading heading back into the single-player career, though, because it meant facing my F1 arch-nemesis: the streets of Monte Carlo. If you've never seen a lap at Monaco, go take a peek at a lap from last year — a former F1 driver described racing on those narrow, twisting streets as trying to ride a bicycle in a living room.

Now I'm hardly trying to run from a challenge (I do have the difficulty cranked up pretty high) and I do think I'm pretty good at this game and racers in general (I can and will beat the AI most of the time), but damned if I just can't get up to speed at Monaco. It's a classic downward spiral: the narrow confines mean there's little room for error to learn the track, so I get frustrated and can't get faster. And because I get frustrated, I don't even want to bother.

I contend that, in games, there's a difference between challenge and frustration. Just at this point, Monaco tips it from one to the other. Annoying.

Also I just remembered that, even though I don't have a ton new to play still at the moment, I still have a lot left to do in Dragon Quest IX. I think that's going to keep me busy for a while. And while Nick is digging through God of War III, I think I might have to get back into the original. Decisions, decisions.