Wednesday, August 16, 2017

While I am posting about things that no one else cares about

Rock of Ages 2, bitches! It's finally coming out!

That's the stuff

I don't play Hearthstone anymore. I don't follow it anymore. I haven't thought about it in months. I wish I could embed this twitch clip. Trust me, it is worth it:

https://clips.twitch.tv/SpookyThoughtfulPuppyStoneLightning

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In which I resist the urge to be mean

I want to tear into the bad parts of Hellblade and there are many to choose from. Without spoiling anything (saving that for this week's podcast) I will say that the ending is quite confusing. It is not clear is Senua is successful, if she is even alive, or if the whole game was just an extension of her psychosis. The environmental rune puzzles never get any better, the combat never gets any deeper, and closing the game out on a fight you are supposed to lose is borderline virtual blue balling.

Mild spoilers there, I suppose.

But that little bit of vitriol and my obscene tweet to Ninja Theory are all that I am going to offer up. For now. I finished the game last night and watched their short 'making of' video and I am not going to forgive the bad parts but I may just be able to give them a pass. Points for trying, I suppose.

Ninja Theory's entire point in Hellblade is demonstrating the impossible to the average player: what is it like to hear voices and see things and not be able to distinguish what is real from what is not? Videogames are the perfect medium for this. Full disclosure, I have no idea what it is like to deal with mental illness but, at least according the people who suffer from said afflictions that were consulted on the game, Hellblade approximates it better than any other attempt.

The player is not supposed to know what is actually happening and what is in Senua's head. The stupid rune puzzles, and the voices in Senua's mind agree about how stupid they are, are Senua looking for meaning and patterns in places where there are none. The world itself breaking into pieces is Senua's perception splintering. It worked. If only the game itself were better.

There is no balance between puzzle solving and fighting. Each occur in large chunks when moving back and forth between the two would have made them slightly less boring. The last third of the game was one long gauntlet that would have benefited from a break and the middle third was Senua moving through interesting environments doing absolutely nothing.

I do not trust Ninja Theory to make a complete good game anymore. Hellblade may prove more entertaining to talk about than it was to play. That is not meant as a compliment.

If forced to pick a bright spot I would like to highlight Senua herself. Her animations both in combat and simply moving are very well done. The way she sidesteps when the camera is turned 90 degrees from the way she is moving and her flourishes when switching from dodging to attacking are very well done. They remind me of the best parts of Enslaved, DmC and Heavenly Sword. As Senua recedes further from reality she becomes more feral, growling at enemies, portraying rage just this side of Kratos smashing in Zeus' head.

The player is not supposed to like Senua, and I didn't, but the performance is convincing. She is a pict, a member of a group so savage that even the Romans didn't want to deal with them, instead building a wall to keep them the fuck out.

I am glad that I played Hellblade but I did not enjoy enough of the game to recommend it, at least not at its current price. I hope that it sparks conversation, which may have been Ninja Theory's intent all along.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday venting

Much to discuss, most of which is not good. It is a Monday, after all.

Prey, in spite of me knowing its twist, managed to stay interesting up to the point it tried to resolve anything. There are, I believe, three possible endings. Spoiler for a several month old game now, you have been warned! Also, I will take any chance possible to throw shade at Nier: Automata, so thank you Prey for having a modern, not dumb as shit save system so I could see all three endings without having to play the game three times.

Ending number one can happen several hours prior to the actual end of the game. By following a set of side quests 'Morgan' can leave the station early. He doesn't accomplish either of the two competing main quests, destroying the station or destroying just the aliens, but he does survive. After Morgan flies off into space the screen goes black and Alex, his brother, states to shut it down, that he is not the one. This only makes sense if you know that 'Morgan' is an alien running through a simulation designed to teach him empathy, something that the player should not know at that point.

Endings two and three are a simple choice: destroy the station (and shoot Morgan's brother in the chest) or destroy the aliens (and shoot the AI based on a previous version of Morgan in the chest). One would think that they would be different in some way. No, they both end up with 'Morgan' in a chair and Alex and several AIs going over his performance, trying to decide if the alien was human enough to let live. At the end of several minutes if info dump the player can decide to shake Alex's hand or kill them all.

I did both and it did not make a difference.

The point of this is unclear. There may be some deeper meaning that I did not uncover. Then again the developers may have just run out of ideas, thrown the credits up on the screen and then fucked off to the bar. Either way, between the bland combat and this nonexistent resolution, Prey was an experience that I will not remember for long.

Prey is a forgettable game about forgetting things. What as I talking about again?

...

Hellblade is awesome.

Senua is a believable, broken character. She started out hearing voices, something modern day medicine would diagnose as schizophrenia that is, in her day, grounds for being locked in a house or kicked out of a village, and it just gets worse for her from there. She finds someone who helps quiet the voices, falls in love, he is killed in a terrible, terrible way (of screen, thankfully) and she goes on a very norse quest to reclaim her lover's soul from Hel. This is Orpheus in the Underworld, viking style.

The game is divided, less equally than I would like, between puzzle solving and combat. Combat is simple, consisting of three different attacks, a block and a dodge, but gets more complicated as more enemies are added. Two at a time is tough and three is just nasty, especially when the camera stays locked on one and his friends sweep around behind. The voice's in Senua's head are not all for show, thought, as they will warn the player when it is time to dodge a swing from off screen. It is not DmC but it works.

Hellblade is shit.

The rest of the time finds Senua wandering through liner environments that are frighteningly well rendered. They don't look, they look dream like, and later nightmare like. In these environments there are about two different kinds of puzzles. The first, and the not shit one, sees Senua switching back and forth between version of the same environment. Think the light and dark worlds from Soul Reaver, only not that good.

And the second kind of puzzle? The shit ones? Doors are locked by runes and Senua must find those same shapes somewhere in the surrounding area. Hellblade does throw the player a bone by at least indicating when the player is close but even so, these are unintuitive needle in a haystack boring ass searches that take up far too much time and are never, ever fun.

These puzzles are so bad that it almost ruins the rest of the game. Each time I came across a door locked in this way I groaned audibly. Last light I swore to noone in particular that if I did not find the rune I was looking for in the next 5 minutes (after having spent 30 fruitless minutes on the task) that I would send malicious and offensive tweets to Ninja Theory.

It was only one. They did not answer.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The worst evolution

There is a little bit of Resident Evil in Prey, at least with how it handles ammunition. I discovered this too late and may very well be proper fucked.

Very little ammunition is found laying around in Prey. Yes, there is some, but not nearly enough to survive. Ammunition is crafted out of bits of detritus found in the environment, meaning that each new area is carefully combed for broken springs, fired hard drives and unused cigars before advancing. These pieces of precious junk do not respawn. Enemies do. You can see the problem here.

I believe that I am a chapter or two from the end of the game. All areas, save one, have been completely looted and I am down to a handful of shotgun shells, fewer pistols rounds, a whole lot of glue and my trusty wrench. Having not used the wrench since I found a gun I have none of the skills associated with the wrench. Melee combat, even after coating the bad guys with gloo, will not work. I just found the last weapon in the game, a glorified laser gun, but it really isn't very good.

So I may be screwed. I do not know how I am going to craft more ammo, much less health packs, and areas through which I must travel again have been restocked with bigger, meaner, more powerful monsters, not to mention the nightmare that keeps coming back from the dead.

This sense of desperation does fit the game but unless I find a huge, hidden stockpile of metal I am going to spend a lot more time running, hiding and dying than anything else. Forcing me to fight multiple enemies in the weightlessness of space did not do any favors for my reserves. If I have to that again I may just fuck off to the easy difficulty.

Or, and this is just a theory, I may carry a turret with me at all times. My repair skills are maxed out so I can both fix and fortify my little friends. Find an enemy, drop the turret, kite the enemy down to a choke point and hope for the best.

Oh no. I have turned Prey into a MOBA. A MOBA.