Ben Kuchera + Penny Arcade = Potential Awesome

Tycho:

There’s an incredibly short list of people I trust to tell me the truth about the industry, even if I don’t always want to hear it, and Ben Kuchera is on top of that list.  You may already be a reader of his at Ars Technica, where he’s been in charge of their gaming coverage for…  well, ever.  Until today, I guess, when I hired him.

We’re bringing him on to create industry coverage you can read without holding your nose, essentially; I want a perspective, I want a Curator for the Internet’s gaming content.  In a couple words, I want something less insulting and disposable.

Ben has ben one of the best voices in games news for a while now and I am extremely interested in seeing what he will be able to do with this move. This is a good thing for the state of games “journalism” and news reporting.

So like the opposite of the Kotaku Core announcement.

Scorekeeper for iOS

If you regularly play games that require manual scorekeeping, you should check this out:

It’s from Matt Rix, the guy who made Trainyard (which was coincidentally enough one of the games discussed in the article I linked yesterday).

The static screenshots of the app didn’t convince me, but seeing it in motion really sells it. It’s a universal app and it’s free for a limited time.

Thanks to Lance Willett for pointing me to this.

The Co-Op Game Recommendation Thread

I have had a great deal of fun with co-op games in the past few years, with highlights being the Covert Ops stuff in Call of Duty, the Gears of War series in campaign, and most recently with Saints Row: The Third.

When it comes down to it, I find that I would rather play a game that way than just about any other, so my lazyweb request for today:

Recommend to me an Xbox 360 game that has an amazing co-op experience.

Guidelines:

  • Not a Gears, Halo, or CoD title.
  • Not being a first-person shooter makes it better in my eyes but not required.
  • Has to be for Xbox 360.
  • Can’t be 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand (already covered and because it’s too awesome for mortal man).

Comment!

One Fly Shark

If you are on the fence about playing Saints Row: The Third, allow me to present this screen capture of a wall-mounted shark with a gold chain and pimp hat:

Oh, and did I mention that this shark is on the wall of the apartment owned by a post-tracheotomy pimp who has a voice box that is a golden microphone and speaks only in auto-tune?

No?

If you are OK with juvenile and ridiculously offensive humor this is the game for you.

Alpha Protocol, I Want to Like You So Much

That’s right; I backlogged a game! In between Gears 3 and MW3 and everything.

This is going to be brief, as there’s not a lot to be said that hasn’t been already. The tl;dr version is that if you find a cheap copy of this and you like Mass Effect 2-style RPG action titles but aren’t picky about a riveting story, you should give this some time.

Things I liked:

  • Neat ideas like putting conversation options on a timer to force you to choose
  • Consistent attitude-based conversation options were easy to understand
  • Conversation and mission choices actually had a noticeable effect on the game later
  • Espionage is a great idea for an RPG setting
  • First story twist was delivered early enough that I didn’t see it coming

Things I didn’t so much like:

  • Bad script, disjointed story, good voice talent, but bad voice direction = meh overall story impact
  • Every character is a striking archetype; there are few surprises
  • The main character is barely likable
  • Final story twists come all at once and make the endgame a total disaster
  • Suffers from typical Obsidian half-doneness

Things I hated:

  • Game design lets you make decisions that you might not want without any kind of warning because of bad level design
  • I don’t think I ever saw a character smile, except maybe that one time
  • Combat is uninspiring (even broken a lot of the time) and pistol proficiency is an “I win” button for boss fights
  • It’s an RPG with boss fights
  • Helicopters

Alpha Protocol is an espionage-based RPG, which was enough to get my attention when it was in development (I think this is a logical RPG setting). However, it hit some pretty rough reviews when it was released, so I tabled the idea and certainly wasn’t going to drop $60 on it. I had the opportunity to snag a copy for about $12, and I’m pretty happy I did.

The game does a very few things right but mostly throws out a few promising ideas that don’t seem to have been given enough time to bake. At first I found the game to be really exciting and novel, but as it wore on I realized that it was falling back on old ideas and in the end wasn’t particularly engaging. The characters were memorable enough and the stable of voice actors was pretty great—it’s too bad that the words they said weren’t as memorable, nor was the voice direction solid. A lot of the story came across as flat.

The largest sin that it committed in my eyes was that it tried to take the story threads and characters from the first three missions and then weave them together in the final mission as some kind of cohesive story. It didn’t work and just served to cheapen the impact of the choices that were made earlier. It felt like the writers ran out of ideas and had to stretch beyond their abilities.

That said, I did manage to enjoy it pretty well in spots and put in a couple of pretty long play sessions with it, so something was going right. At less than $20, it’s a decent buy if you like action RPGs. Just don’t expect anything revolutionary. I think it would have been a decent franchise to revisit in a sequel with some additional polish, but as it didn’t sell very well that’s not likely to happen.

It gets a “hm, this was interesting yet flawed” from me. Honorable mention goes to Nolan North’s turn as Steven Heck, which was one of the better parts of the game.