What I've Been Playing

Home from my brief four-day trip to NJ and presently without a project to work on (that reprieve will end when Fed-Ex shows up this afternoon), left me with quite a bit of time to game. And get my game on, I have done. I've commented on a couple of these in the past, but if you missed it or just want another, later opinion, keep reading.

King Kong
Okay, this was a launch game that I picked up used last year when I was writing a chapter on how to score 10,000 Gamerscore in 2 weeks. I finally got around to finishing the game on Monday and, frankly, it wasn't as bad as a lot of people would have you believe. Simple? Yes. Ugly? Yes. Repetetive? You betcha. But there was something oddly compelling about it. All you need to know about the game is experienced in the first 60-90 minutes, but for some reason I continued to play. Okay, I admit it, it's a very easy source of 1000 Gamerscore and I just finally wanted to get it over with. I can't say I was all that entertained.

Penny Arcade: Episode 1
If you know the full run-on-sentence long title of this game, then I doubt I need to tell you anything you haven't already figured out by playing it. Upon finishing up King Kong on Monday, I booted back up the Penny Arcade game in hopes of finally finishing it. I did. It took me a little bit of time to get back into the swing of the game -- hadn't played since May -- but I wanted to get up to speed before Episode 2 comes out. I'm on the fence about this one. My initial enjoyment from it came from it being something completely different, very funny, and because I loved the narrator. Not unlike King Kong, however, you soon realize that you see this game's entire bag of tricks before the halfway point as well and the only thing pulling you forward is your own desire to complete the game. The story is transparent and the gameplay rather limiting. That said, when Penny Arcade is funny (a rarity these days), they're really funny. I'm going to give Episode 2 a try when it releases in the coming weeks because it's going to be $5 cheaper than the first (1200 MS points instead of 1600) and because the Achievements list for Episode 2 lead me to believe that there are several new gameplay elements being worked in. Following the entire series to the conclusion is certainly not a given at this point. Episode 2 had better be good.

Assassin's Creed
For some reason, rather than throw in one of my unopened games, I decided to try and finish up Assassin's Creed. Why, I have no idea. I so badly want to like this game, but the constant repetition of gameplay and the fact that the three major cities (Acre, Jerusalem, and Damascus) all look nearly identical in the game makes it really hard to want to go on. I was at least hoping that moving between cities and their districts would feel like unlocking a new level, but it's not. Everything looks the same. And everything I do is the same. I climb steeples, I dive into hay, and I fight. I hold the R Trigger to wait for an attacker to make his move, then I tap the X Button to counterattack. Mix in the occasional pickpocket and repeat ad nauseum. In hindsight, the only part of the game that really stuck out beyond the first 45 minutes was the criss-crossing of the Kingdom on horseback but that became old too and now I just fast-travel wherever I need to go. As a completionist, it's very hard for me to purposely avoid searching for the hidden gems stuck deep inside the seat cushions of a game, but the extra collect-a-thoning involved in this game is so boring and tedius that I have no interest in it. I never thought I'd say it, but I've even grown bored with even the sweeping panoramas viewed from atop the tallest towers in the Holy Land. How that is possible, I don't know.

Age of Booty
Finally something to celebrate. This just released this morning on XBLA for 800 MS points ($10) and I am really, really enjoying it. It's a team-based real-time strategy game in the most simple and addictive of forms. Teams of 2 or 4 sail around a hexagonal-based ocean and compete to capture towns and resources. Use resources to either upgrade your ship (speed, armor, cannons) or to upgrade the town so it can better defend itself. Merchant ships drop curses that you can use to pilfer extra resources from your opponents or to even blow up their ships or trap them in a whirlpool. There are 21 single player challenges (some are very hard), a full-featured Map Editor mode so you can load up your own personal maps, and of course online multiplayer. Two players can play on the same television sitting side by side, provided you're on the same team. The game is very easy to understand by skimming the in-game controls and manual and by playing the first two or three single player challenges (scroll down for the easy ones). The single-player challenges suffer a bit on account of the heavy reliance on the A.I.-controlled ships being impossible to communicate and organize a strategy with, but fortunately you can play online with real humans and coordinate tactics with. That is, assuming they are using the microphones. Of the matches I've played online so far, only one of them featured other people communicating well. The difference is huge, so please have your microphone ready and talk it up with your fellow booty-grabbers (Ha!) as it will really make the game much easier to enjoy.

Here's the official trailer for Age of Booty. Send me an invite if you ever want to play.

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