Backloggin’ – 19/08/2012

Oh yeah, big accomplishments since my last update. I knocked out the biggest and baddest contender on my backlog, which I’ll get into in a bit. But first…

Hard Difficulty / ~3 hours played

Rage (or is it RAGE? I can never tell with these stylized logos) is one of the few remaining FPS games on my summer to-do list, that is, if you don’t count Metroid Prime as one, which I certainly wouldn’t – it’s definitely more of a first-person-adventure type thing.

I started Rage on the 360 close to when it first came out, just to get a taste for it, since my Dad decided to pick it up. I decided later though, that playing it on PC would be the only way to go – this is an id game, after all. Gotta represent the PC master race, y’know how it is. So after the summer steam sale hit, I grabbed it, and just recently started it up.

Before I go anywhere else, the PC version of Rage is easily the worst PC version of a game id has put out. The texturing system they used to make sure the PS3 and 360 versions could pull of the sort of highly-detailed world they desired doesn’t really translate so well to PC. There’s tons of noticeable texture-pop-in and incredibly low-res detailing – which really takes away from the experience. The problem here is that PCs can and should be able to pull off a game like Rage without any such hiccups – but that’s the thing. Rage wasn’t designed for PCs, in terms of how it actually runs. The result is a game that just doesn’t take advantage of a modern-day PC as it should. Which is a major bummer, because from at a distance, Rage’s world is really quite detailed and impressive. It’s a seamless transition from conceptual art to game – only it’s pretty low-res if you get too close.

Actually, reading complaints from gamers abroad upon Rage’s Steam release on the forums – the loveliest of places for post-game launch criticism, for sure – was absolutely hilarious. Threads and threads of people print-screening low-res textures in the game and demanding their money back. It’s rather silly, of course. But I almost think the complaints are somewhat justified. I mean, this was a game that came out near-end 2011. And textures like this – however minor they may be, don’t blow over well with PC gamers.

“WTF id SHIT IS SO LOW RESGUBOLUTION. MONIEZ BACK PLZ. MY EYES ARE BLEEDING FROM THE TERRIBAD.” — A somewhat common complaint about Rage’s lower-resolution textures (since somewhat remedied).

Anyway, enough about graphics. Rage is pretty enjoyable to play. It’s a sort of mish-mash between Borderlands, BioShock, Fallout 3, and some sort of nameless all-terrain vehicle racer, due to the emphasis on driving and sometimes racing. Unfortunately, it never really feels as much fun as any of those three, because there’s never a dead focus on any of the things that made those games great. Borderlands had an addicting looting system, which isn’t really present in Rage since looting is very limited and isn’t very exciting – you sort of just pick up things because you can, not because you shouldBioShock had a great narrative that pulled you in from the very start, but Rage’s is significantly less compelling – at least so far. And as for Fallout 3 – which is easily one of my favorite games ever – Rage’s world exploration feels incredibly limited in comparison. There’s invisible walls aplenty and you never feel like you’re really able to go wherever as a result.

I’m still liking Rage though, that’s for sure. The first two hours or so aren’t really anything special, but I’m already starting to like the game more as I progress. I just sort of passed the point I had reached in the 360 version, so from here on out it’s all new to me. I’m thinking I’ll be able to finish it before the end of next week, easily. I’m having a good time with the races since the vehicles are actually quite enjoyable to drive – especially after getting those turning upgrades. The other thing is, you acquire quite the arsenal within the first few hours of the game so killing stuff, bandits or otherwise, is still pretty enjoyable.

Anyway, time to address the elephant in the room. You might have noticed a certain title is missing from the “unfinished” list this week…

Time: ~71 hours // Level: 79-80

Oh yeah. At 71 hours for my rather limited completion, Xenoblade is quite the elephant. In fact, it’s the longest friggin’ game I’ve ever played, and the only JRPG I’ve ever finished.

Quite simply, it was great. It kicked my ass pretty hard towards the end – there was one boss in particular that took me about 20 tries at least to overcome – but then I realized this was an RPG, grinded out a few levels, and returned for that sweet victory. From there on, it was more or less smooth sailing with a few deaths here and there.

But goddamn, was this game good. I was never really enthusiastic about it in my previous posts though, as you may have noticed. I mentioned how the pacing was slow and how the story was really taking its time in getting good. Once it did though – which was about halfway through, I really pushed myself to finish it. The story really takes more than several crazy twists, and the overall story line concludes in such a satisfying, genre-bending way  that it easily bests Mass Effect 3, the other big-name RPG I played this year. And I don’t just mean the ending, either. I mean the whole thing, from start to finish. Looking back once I had finished it, I actually appreciated Xenoblade’s humble beginnings, because when things get crazy, it really catches you off guard. Like I’ve said before, playing Xenoblade is like watching an anime series from start to finish. Things start small, but once they get good… they get really good.

Yeah, so you live on those guys. Cool, huh?

I really only have one gripe with this game – but everything else about it is done exceptionally well. Xenoblade’s world is imaginative and vividly created – I mean, what other games take place on two giant, immovable titans separating the organic life from the mechanical? Not only is the whole concept incredibly enticing, but it’s executed so well. As you travel through Xenoblade‘s many varied landscapes, you’ll feel like you’re standing on some part of these giants. You’ll see mountains, massive structures, and hills that actually form around the arms and legs of these massive, mysterious beings. Environmentally, MonolithSoft was able to get a lot out of the Wii’s hardware – and the results are rather incredible. Sure, the view-distance is limited, but this is very much a game world that is created for exploration. There are no cheap tricks or invisible walls here – Xenoblade’s world is a vast, varied, beautiful accomplishment , and one that begs to be explored. For the most part, any area you see while roaming about can usually be reached. It’s an amazing sensation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Then there’s the music. Xenoblade’s soundtrack is large and memorable, with night and day variations on each zone’s unique tune. Each track is distinct, memorable, and often captivating. I’d be surprised if someone who played Xenoblade from start to finish didn’t download the soundtrack immediately after – this is a soundtrack that brings the game and it’s emotion, it’s characters to life. I can’t count the number of times I got goosebumps after listening to the whole thing, track by track. Xenoblade’s soundtrack is a definite reminder of the power and influence a great soundtrack can add to a game experience. It’s easily one of the best OSTs I’ve heard in all my years in gaming. Yeah, that good.

Unfortunately, I never really paid much attention to what makes up a large chunk of Xenoblade – the side quests. They’re generic, mundane, and barely passable – but they sort of hold up just because of how much fun it is to explore Xenoblade’s world – and if anything, the side quests here are an invitation, an incentive to venture into the unknown. For me though, the most compelling part of Xenoblade was always the main story, so I had a hard time getting tempted to stay in one area when the story had already moved on to the next. But like I said, this was the only major complaint I have about the game.

If you own a Wii, this is a title you absolutely must check out. This is the first JRPG I’ve ever taken seriously, so don’t let the genre label scare you away – Xenoblade is incredibly accessible and easy to pick up. The combat system, while simple enough at first, has enough depth to it that advanced players will be able to appreciate the challenge of taking on higher-level enemies, while JRPG newbies will feel right at home with the difficulty that follows the main story line and most of the side quests. Remember, you’re starting the fights in Xenoblade most of the time – so it’s up to you to decide what you think you can handle. The game also lets you play as any of the members in your party, so you can explore the mechanics and positives of other class types as you see fit. And death – ha! Death in Xenoblade is nothing more than the game shrugging and telling you to try again – there are no heavy penalties or losses here, should you fall prey to an enemy, or several – which will happen.

Xenoblade has been a powerful, memorable experience for me, and it’s opened my eyes to JRPGs as a genre, something I thought would never happen. And at the end of it all, it stands tall as not only a great RPG – but a great game, and one that I’ll remember fondly. I cannot recommend it enough.

Next up…

  1. Metroid Prime
  2. Rage (PC)
  3. Assassin’s Creed II (PS3)
  4. Infamous 2

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