Avast! Monkeys ahead!

I know retro gaming is fashionable these days, but I think it’s more than nostalgia that keeps us looking back fondly at the games of our youth. In that spirit, Lucas Arts is bringing Monkey Island to the Xbox 360:

Needless to say, I’m excited about this. I think I’ve even forgotten enough that rediscovering Monkey Island will still be a fun experience! My only concern is whether the controls will be good, but that’s just a minor quibble.

Play it again? You’ve got to be kidding me!

I finally got round to finishing my second play-through of Mass Effect. I got a couple of the achievements I had been chasing, but not all, and this has reminded me of why I’m not really a completionist.

Mass Effect, like many RPGs encourages the player to talk to every character, explore every planet and complete every sidequest. You only get rewarded (via Renegade/Paragon points) for taking part in quests, even when inaction would leave far more impact on the game world. On top of that, there are specific sidequests that require you to explore every last nook and cranny of the galaxy hunting down this widget or that ore seam. All of this I did on my first play-through.

The game, however, dangles the carrot of Xbox Achievements (and in some cases, enticing character improvements) for you to re-do a lot of these tedious paper chases in subsequent runs through the game. I can understand that; RPGs tend to be single-player games, and without the fun of multi-player deathmatch, replayability becomes a strong indicator for “getting your money’s worth”.

Unfortunately, the main thing holding me back from yet another go at Mass Effect is its lack of variability. Even if I didn’t remember where everything was (I don’t, but it’s not hard to figure out), all the planets, buildings and quests are so similar they blend into each other. There are no surprises, and the outcomes for your character choices don’t really impact the game in ways that force you to wonder how it might have gone if you’d done something different.

Why would I want to go through all of that so I can get a little badge that tells me:

  • I’ve played the majority of the game with each of the party members actively by my side
  • I’ve mastered each weapon, biotic, and tech ability
  • I’ve completed it on each difficulty level
  • I’ve taken my character to the maximum experience level

Sure, some of them come with a little bonus for building my next character, but that doesn’t eliminate any of the drudgery. Tech powers and biotics have the same activation mechanic, and very similar visuals. The three weapon classes are very similar. By the time you’re level 45, you’re nearly unstoppable, regardless of your character class, choice of companions, or established battle tactics.

At least in Fable 2, the landscape around you changes as you make choices. Whole towns develop along different lines and prosper or suffer under the consequences of your actions. This is more likely to impact your willingness to replay the game.

For me, the pinnacle of replayability in a proper RPG is still Planescape: Torment. Even though the bad old Infinity Engine doesn’t produce awesomely immersive 3D worlds, I still return to Torment for a different swing at things. You can take completely different approaches to the game, have wildly differing experiences, come out with amazingly different plotpaths, and still have as much fun as the next guy.

Maybe I’m not well-versed enough in video games, but I can’t think of a narrative-based game that allows for such a rich experience. Can you name any?

A whole new Experience

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that Microsoft released a major update to its dashboard system yesterday.

While some people are experiencing some hiccups, my experience last night with it was generally quite good. I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow because plenty of other sites have previewed it. I did have one issue: it refused to ask me to upgrade on my account, but the minute we switched over to Flip’s, it presented us with the familiar upgrade dialog.

Anyway, once we got through that, we spent at least an hour making our new avatars and taking photos of them. We’re having trouble getting Lego Indiana Jones to play properly, so we installed that to the hard drive, and it works a treat.

One thing I did notice that may give you a shock the first time you encounter it is that it won’t play movies that use the additional codec pack. A quick trip to the Marketplace to re-download the pack sorts the problem out though.

One thing that I find disappointing is that Microsoft hasn’t found a local partner to do video rentals, like they have with Netflix in the US. While I wouldn’t use it that often, I might consider it more seriously if it were available.

So what do you guys think of the New Xbox Experience? Any horror stories yet?

Stop humping the “LAY-ZER”

For a long time now (several months at least), my Xbox 360 has had difficulty reading discs. Most of the time, it would ignore the game partition and go straight to the DVD-video partition, which meant I would get the ironic message telling me to insert the disc into an Xbox 360 to get it to play. Eventually, if I ejected and re-inserted the disc, it would play. Continue reading