Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh yeah, I've been gaming... Wordscraper, Boom Bloxx, and GTA IV

I haven't posted in a while. I'm going to start getting back to it now that I've taken a brief break from work and a nice flurry of gaming over the past few days.

First, Wordscraper. I've been getting fewer Scramble, Wordscraper, and Word Twist
requests from friends so I decided to dig in to the "Blitz" version of the game. It's an online competitive solitaire version of Scrabble with some interesting twists. The initial board lay out is random which creates for an RTS-like experience where you scout the map and plot your strategy. The random set up of the game makes it so that you have to adjust your strategy each time. Do I create intricate cross hatches of words to take advantage of a nest of letter multiplier tiles? Do I rush out to the corners as quickly as possible to take advantage of a cluster of word multiplier tiles? Do I need to play a straight up game because there are very few bonus tiles at all? Very fun and very competitive. The rounds are 4 minutes meaning that an hour can disappear quickly.

My biggest pet peeves are:

  • The board is puny. This makes it hard to place tiles accurately.
  • There are too few keyboard shortcuts. I believe I talked about this elsewhere. Hopefully we'll get some more (especially a hot-key for tile swap).
  • There is a serious bug (or flawed feature) in that the game seems to want to "intelligently" decide whether my first click on the board yields a down or across arrow. This is extremely frustrating especially near the end of the game when you want to jam in one last word and the game guesses wrong.
I haven't had a lot of time with GTA IV, but strangely enough I'm rather hooked. I really didn't care for any of the previous versions as I found driving to be frustrating and combat to be painfully awkward and unsatisfying. In addition to my frustration with previous GTA games, after playing a bunch of Crackdown (where I thought combat was over the top, driving was much better, and my character could do insanely interesting things) I figured there was no way I could go back to the more "realistic" GTA world.

I was wrong. I got sucked into the story line and visuals from moment one. This is happening more and more often these days -- I'm willing to forgive less exciting core combat for great story telling. The world is truly beautiful to drive around in (I play on my 100+" projection screen) and the cinematics are mostly worth watching. The writing, voice acting, and cinematic direction keeps me engaged in ways that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune did.

Moreover, the game has become much more accessible to the more linear minded gamer like myself. The addition of the GPS and an engaging main plot line has left me wanting more. As I get a bit better at combat, driving, and world navigation I'm starting to get antsy to just "screw around" in the world... Something that I loved to do in Crackdown (because my character was a super hero who was basically invincible) but never quite got in the previous GTA games.

Interestingly enough, my fiancee has been watching me play a bunch. We both laugh along to the story (not due to cheesiness, but due to actually humorous dialog and situations) and she loves just watching me drive around and act like a maniac.

Also, as with Crackdown, Liza likes to give me hints. This has happened with other puzzle type games (like Portal). Games that she has no desire to play (most likely due to fear of "sucking" because she doesn't consider herself a hard core gamer) but that would probably have fun playing if somehow the controls were made more accessible. Something to think about.

Finally (well, there are some demos to review, but I'll do that in a later post) I picked up Boom Bloxx. I played a bit of it with a friend and knew that I would want to play more. It's a great puzzle game that makes decent use of the Wii-mote. My main gripe is that the pushing/pulling of blocks is hard to execute with any precision. Maybe it's because of the way I'm sitting, but I seem to have to push or pull exceptionally far (and with an exceptionally steady hand) in order to push a block directly away from me or pull it directly towards me.

There's lots of fun content and puzzles. What I'm left to wonder is: Is this game actually worth the full retail price given the huge number of great free puzzle games online? I haven't explored much of the Wii Ware feature (and probably won't until there are free trial versions) but there's a ton of potential here.

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