Backlog: Back to Logging edition

So that was something of a false start the last time we did this. But we're back again, and a few of us have some games to talk about. So grab yourself some fine incense and a nice Pimm's cocktail and prepare to understand games as few ever have. Best of all, we've updated our process so trepanning is no longer necessary. And we pass the savings on to you!

Doug

Ahh…another Backlog. I’ve been working on quite a few different games as of late.

I caved and got some comfort food recently. I’ve put plenty of time into F1 2011 – if you remember our Backlogs from a couple years ago, this should not be surprising at all. It’s a nice improvement from F1 2010, so for my money, I’m quite happy.

I’m also a sucker for football. Usually, this manifests itself in a given year’s NCAA Football title; after all, I love my Ducks more than anything else in the sports world (and that, for me, is saying something). However, after playing the demos of both NCAA 13 and Madden NFL 13, I decided to drop my money on the pro game this year. Keep in mind that the demos are often very representative of the final product, and that, this year, Madden’s new physics engines and gameplay changes make it feel much fresher.

After borrowing Saints Row: The Third from Tyler this summer, I’ve turned it into a slow burn, and only this week have finally finished it up. What a game. It’s a near-perfect takedown of games themselves matched up with plenty of awesome gameplay and a wicked sense of humor. I wish I’d gotten on the 3rd Street Saints bandwagon last year because it would have had my 2011 Game of the Year vote, easy.

I’ve also been putting in daily check-ins on Pocket Planes, the follow-up to Tiny Tower. It’s the most fun I’ve had with supply-chain management like, ever.

Lastly, after the first two chapters were put up for free for PS+ users, I grabbed The Walking Dead. I’m not a huge adventure game fan but these first two episodes were a fantastic marriage of gameplay, storytelling, and some seriously tough decisions. I love the world TellTale is building (though it is being built on the comic series) and how strong of repercussions your choices carry. I know, I’m late to the show on this one, and I’ll go pick up episode 3 as soon as I can get some more PSNBux to re-fill my account.

Spencer

There's too many goddamned games, either out or coming out soon. Here's what I've been playing, resentfully, wishing there were more hours in the day.

The very enjoyable Gotham City Impostors was released under the ubiquitous Free to Play moniker recently, replacing the ugly Games for Windows Live with the much more usable Steamworks. Beyond the change in architecture, it's the same, COD-inspired, comic book gameplay of the original, and easily worth the cost of admission. As an added bonus, owners of the previous game receive a large number of the usually-paid-or-earned upgrades and character items for free. It's done a fine job of helping me to get over the decline of the Call of Duty series, despite its general silliness.

Team Fortress 2's massive Mann vs. Machine update nabs my attention from time to time. The cooperative mode is difficult, yes, but very fun if you have a good team of friends willing to use voicechat. Like Gotham City Impostors, it's free to play, so you might consider giving it a shot if you're into FPSes, and COD-like games aren't your thing. I find MvM hits the pleasure centers of my brain that were previously reserved for defeating difficult bosses in World of Warcraft, making it an effective form of MMO-methadone.

Moving on from free games (but not on from shooters), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has proved a pleasing distraction. It's effectively identical to the previous two Counter-Strike titles, with a graphical facelift and a matchmaking service built-in - if that doesn't sound enjoyable to you, it probably won't be. However, the gameplay has aged exceptionally well, providing a rhythmic, paced counterpoint to contemporaries (be it the frenetic Quake-like pace of Call of Duty, the slower, larger conflicts of Battlefield, or the outright absurdity of TF2). Custom maps and modes are already widely available, so the $20 price will likely keep you entertained, off and on for years. Or, that was my rationalization for the purchase.

Relating to Battlefield, the Armored Kill expansion came out on Tuesday (for owners of BF3 Premium, at least). I'm not sold yet; the new maps seem of excellent scale and composure, but the new tanks are pretty crap (lacking the versatility or power of established types), and the new mode hasn't gripped me. Most damning of all, the AC-130 gunship is not player controlled, instead circling around the map as a weapons platform / spawn point. Since I can't land it on players or drive it around the map like a tank, it's a pretty superfluous addition. Maybe it'll grow on me over time. We'll see.

A recent sale saw me purchase Mass Effect 3 a second time, for PC, so I can play multiplayer with some friends. I like to call it "Diet Mass Effect," as it's a good influx of flavor from a setting I enjoy, without the preachy story of Shepard. However, the otherwise entertaining experience is degraded by reliance on EA's Origin - disconnects, lost purchases and general shittiness. It's a fun game with a shitty framework around - tragic, irritating, but still playable.

Finally, a standalone mod for Freespace 2, Diaspora: Shattered Armistice, recently released. A space sim based on Battlestar Galactica, it's nicely wrenched the still-versatile Freespace SCP engine into a well-executed story parallel to the first episodes of BSG, with solid voice acting and mission scripting. If you have a joystick or gamepad, and are a fan of the TV series, you'll probably find this excursion very enjoyable.

Which of these will fall to the wayside now that Black Mesa is out and Borderlands 2 releases tomorrow? That's anybody's guess. (Pro tip: probably all of them.)

Tyler

I haven't visited Borderlands' Pandora nearly since the title's launch three years ago. Luckily, the sequel's impending release coupled with its predecessor being made available for "Your Instant Game Library!" on Sony's PlayStation Plus service I had good reason to once again catch-a-ride.

The experience was every bit the humorous, loot-driven, shooter I remember, but it wasn't all familiar territory. This was my first time experiencing the game's downloadable content. The way Gearbox treats these packs is intriguing; they have, for the most part, self-contained narratives and could possibly be outside of the game's canon. They all retain Borderlands' strong writing and humor, however, which helps prevent them from being a chore. This certainly helps when you discover that there is only a single fast-travel beacon in each of the DLC packs, despite the large territory you are completing missions in.

Playing through a second time allows you to appreciate the smaller touches that make the game great, as well as observe the rougher edges which become that much more noticeable. I'm still incredibly excited for Borderlands 2, which launches tomorrow in N.A., but I'm hoping that Gearbox has made improvements to the diversity of weapons, mission structure and playable character diversity/customizability. Borderlands 1 brought a fresh approach to shooters by adopting a Diablo-esque, loot-seeking hook, but it also absorbed too many of the genre's tired tropes. We'll find out this week if BL2 can do enough to not feel like a shooter with dated RPG trappings.

Aaron

My last Backlog contribution was in June of 2011. I'd be stupid to talk about the games I've played since then; and no one would read all that. So, let's do the truncated version!

Over September I've become enamored with Telltale's adaptation of The Walking Dead. Various bloggers and bros (a.k.a. Tyler, though I still refuse to inflate his ego by saying he influenced my purchase -- Steam's summer sale was the -- cough -- nail in the coffin) had espoused praises for the first two episodes for several months. Even so I let the game gather dust until shortly before its third episode released. Once I loaded the first episode I rapidly found myself locked-in to the horrifying, and oddly beautiful, story for three hours straight. After I finished part one I went right to part two -- another three or four hours flew by. Wow.

I missed being absorbed by a game's story, and not trapped by its incessant mechanics (Skyrim's exploration, Diablo's loot-fest, etc.)

Many more words can be written about the expertly crafted plot, so filled with unease and tension (which is very much in the spirit of the graphic novels), but I'll at least say this: I've never been so invested in the outcome of videogame characters as I have with Lee, Clementine and the remaining crew of blowhards, bastards and bitches. Especially during Episode 3, which I'm not going to spoil, my body had several gut-wrenching reactions to the moral decisions and outcomes of myself playing Lee. But I was fucking engrossed. This is digital storytelling at its best, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you buy the full five-episode pack, now. Here, I'll make it easy for you with myriad links to all relevant platforms: PC, Live Arcade, PSN, iOS.

Battlefield 3: Armored Kill is...weird. I'm perhaps the most diehard Battlefield fan on staff (though Spencer and I likely share the crown), but I can't wrap my head around the new maps. Perhaps the last two games, Bad Company 1 and 2, and the first handful of BF3 maps up through Close Quarters have conditioned me to play within a much smaller sandbox. That doesn't mean I'm not in love with the giant, vehicle-focused maps in AK -- that's far from the truth. They're gorgeous.

I suppose I'm frustrated by an emphasis on vehicles that rarely last longer than five minutes (which is a generous estimation by myself) due to SOFLAM locks and assholes with Javelin missiles (yeah, yeah: smoke works when you've only got one locked missile to worry about). Also, I'm sick of seeing both teams full of engineers. This has been problematic since release, but with AK's obvious favoritism on armor and air power you'd be stupid to play as a solider or support class when five tank destroyers are rolling toward you. Maybe they should have added another upgrade slot to give every driver the maintenance perk to reduce the need for an all-engineer repair team; or maybe DICE could have given all classes RPG launchers in Tank Superiority to effectively level the playing field and avoid forcing players to act a certain way. It's Battlefield after all -- you're supposed to achieve goals however you see fit.

And finally, here are four brief words about Guild Wars 2: it's the real deal. I do this to avoid babbling on for another 750 words about what a success this MMO is. I'll save that for next week!