Friday, December 28, 2012

Couldn't stay away

I really did want to take a few days to a week off. Then I finished Lego Lord of the Rings last night and there are two things that I need to get off of my chest. Perhaps I reacted poorly to finding out that majority of my extremely limited traffic comes from a Russian porn site. I would explore the site further to figure out how but I am at work and wish to remain gainfully employed.

Plenty of time for that later.

Anyone who sits through all twelve plus hours of the Lord of the Rings extended editions and doesn't get a little misty at the end of The Return of the King needs to give up on fantasy and pick a different genre. I am not talking about Frodo getting on the boat and leaving with the elves along with Bilbo and Gandalf. While moving it was alluded to so many times that I just wanted them to be done with it. The part that always has me checking for witnesses comes before that:



Viggo sells the shit out of that line, then bows along with everyone else who is still alive. The Shire theme swells, the camera pulls back, and I am a goddamn wreck.

What does this have to do with Lego Lord of the Rings? The scene is recreated almost exactly and it has the exact same affect. This is not so much an endorsement of the game as it is on of the subject matter. Even referencing it in a different medium is enough to get me going. The stupid game reminded me that I do in fact have feelings. How dare it.

After that the player is dropped off in the white city and has the whole world to play in. This is when you are expected to backtrack through every single level and pick up all the bits of stuff that were not available before. I was ready to turn it off before I noticed a new trail of Legos that were used to lead you to the next objective. Nothing was on the map, but I followed them anyway. It took me on a walking tour of the over world, past all of the giant set pieces, past all of the entrances to levels, all the way back to Rivendell. It led right up to a painting that served as the entrance to the bonus level.

How nice, I thought, the didn't hide it.

Cue Lego Sauron and Lego Mouth of Sauron rampaging through a zoomed out version of the map destroying everything. It was inverse Katamari Damaci: not collecting items but flattening everything in your path. A fine send off to one of the better Lego license games.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Could be good, could be bad

I don't get very many page views, which is not surprising, but I check out what sites are referring people here once and a while.

The vast majority of my pages views are coming from a Russian porn site.

And with that, I declare a temporary hiatus...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Enough of the pieces

Lego Lord of the Rings has either crossed the line between game with lots of hidden stuff to find and game with nothing to do but find hidden stuff (see Epic Mickey 2) or it has successfully split the two into separate experiences that live on the same disc. Before I get to over analyzing a goddamn Lego game, I will freely admit that Lego Gollum is wonderful, tossing Lego Gimli is hilarious, the little Lego touches to cut scenes almost always succeed it pulling a laugh out of me and that I would spend Texa$ dollars on a Lego balrog.

Enough fawning, time to apply grown up metrics to a game aimed at the young and young at heart. Lego games have always been packed with things that cannot be accomplished on the first time a level is played. Usually they require an ability than the current characters do not have. Solving them created wonderful non-sequiturs like having the Joker explore the Batcave or Mola-Ram running around with Short Round. Lego Lord of the Rings takes it one step further with quests that are handed our for the previous level. There is nothing difficult about them as they are simple fetch quests but there is no way to obtain the requested item prior to it being requested regardless of how carefully the previous level was played. It's the worst kind of busy work: the kind you don't get paid for.

These quests are all obtained in the levels between levels that have replaced the hub areas from the previous games. Each of these is easily the size of one of the standard levels and equally filled with things that you cannot do when you first arrive. I have even run across help text for items that I did not have yet, one of which caused a search of embarrassing length for a bucket that I would be given an hour later. The interim levels are all connected in a linear fashion and there is no quick travel between them (yet). It's long walk from the Black Gates back to Hobbiton, but if I want to retrieve every last bit of junk there is no way around it.

This is where the game splits: if I wanted to find it, I would have to walk back. There is nothing preventing me from walking forward, ignoring all the extra Lego collectibles, and enjoying the game in my own way. Lego Lord of the Rings made the part of the game that I do not play more difficult but also made it easier to ignore that part. I am content to see the Lego manifestations of  treasured fantasy characters without searching every nook and cranny for enough mithril pieces to forge the super secret hat that sets off Legolas' ears in just the right way. I am having my cake and eating it, too.



Having dialogue from the movie makes it much more enjoyable. There is nothing better than delivering your heart felt last words with a banana sticking out of your chest.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sleeping soap box

Sleeping Dogs really had me for the first third of the game. The undercover cop trying to fit in to a murderous triad without actually killing anyone was interesting, though I did wonder how long he would be able to keep it up. As it turns out, not very long at all. Shen goes from 'I'm a cop, I'm not going to kill anyone' to 'I'm a gangster, suck on my bullets' with such ease that the character lost all credibility. Yes, he felt guilty for a while, if his nightmares are proof of anything, but that doesn't keep him from taking up arms with his new brothers and gunning down members of both his and rival triads with all sorts of weapons, up to and including a gleefully over the top segment with a grenade launcher.

As Shen's attitude changed so did mine. At first I was quite careful when driving around town, running down as few pedestrians as possible. After the turn I decided that getting to where I wanted to go quickly was more important than keeping my tires clean and bumper unblemished. The character's mood and motivations actually changed how I was playing the game, and definitely not for the better. Was the game still fun? Of course it was, Sleeping Dogs is an excellent sand box game in an interesting setting. I just wish that more effort had been put into keeping Shen a cop instead of just another gangster with police ties.

I think that the protagonists of sand box games end up as either true villains or at best morally ambiguous  because the developers honestly believe that players, given the freedom, with always default to dick head mode and start testing out new moves on random passers by. For some segment of the population this is undoubtedly true. These are also the same people who think that the solution to gun violence is more guns. Give the player a hero and he or she will play heroically. Imagine an open world Superman game where Superman punching an innocent literally turns them to pulp. Most people would do it once, realize that it just doesn't fit, and never do it on purpose again. These are the people to make games for because they will appreciate the effort, spend the money, and not send their child to school packing heat.

That wandered a bit, didn't it?

I can't take credit for this line of thought, much smarter men than I brought it to my attention.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Worst of the Year 2012

I was so wrapped up in Sleeping Dogs last night that I forgot what day it was, so no Demo Friday this week. It is just as well as there were no new releases, anyway. Instead, it is time to tabulate the worst game of the year.

First, a few disqualifications.

Twisted Metal offended me because it was the exact same game as Twisted Metal Black, which was also the exact same game as Twisted Metal 2, which was as good as the series ever got, in 1996. Times have changed, cars blowing each other up being the extent of game play is not good enough anymore, and Twisted Metal's refusal to advance made it irrelevant. I made it about two levels in and gave up.

Dragon's Dogma will not be considered because it being bad was actually my fault. I played the game in such a way that it became impossible to play it any longer. The game didn't tell me, which is certainly not optimal, instead it just killed me for my ignorance. Tough love, I suppose. Dragon's Dogma has more in common with Dark Souls, a game that I didn't even bother trying to play because I know it's not my thing, than what I hoped it was aping: Skyrim. My expectations were in the wrong so the game gets a free pass.

I am quite tempted to break my 'finish the game' rule for Risen 2. The game does everything wrong: the combat is bad, the writing is bad, the graphics are bad and quests are tracked in an incredibly obtuse way. A pirate themed open ended RPG is something that I really want. This was not it. Honestly, Risen 2 is the worst game I attempted to play this year but it will not get the award because I didn't force myself to see all of its terribleness.

It's a tough call this year. I hope you are ready for


VS


There are no winners here, only bigger losers.

This is a contest between trying and failing and not trying at all. Which is worse, to have a few good ideas that are wasted because you lacked the skill (or money, or time) to see them through to the end or to have no ideas, steal everything from other games and still get it all wrong?

I do enjoy the basic tenant of NeverDead: a character who is immortal but not invincible played for laughs instead of badassery. The game around him is so uneven that it made enjoying rolling through a level as a disembodied head impossible to enjoy, and that's not easy. Aside from this one redeeming feature NeverDead is a collection of bad gaming habits that competent developers know to avoid. Huge sections of the game are escort missions that give Knight's Contract some serious competition. Difficulty spikes are extreme and frustrating, culminating in a final boss that introduces a new mechanic (jumping...) and you have to kill several times.

NeverDead is not without merit; it has a germ of a good idea that is killed by laziness and a reliance on ideas that have already been beaten to death. This makes its eventual failure all the more difficult to endure.

...

Where to begin with Blades of Time?


Oh yeah. Her.

The tarted up Lara Croft with the preposterous accent who ends up with wings at the end of the game because someone spilled coffee on the original design document and had to start making shit up. The woman who stars in a game that used motion blur as a bullet point for the back of the box. The game whose combat is so disconnected and soft that it is difficult to tell when and if you are making contact with the enemies. The combat that stole time manipulation ideas from other, better games and still managed to get it wrong. The other, better games that I have should have been playing instead of Blades of Time.

I usually don't get mad at games for being bad. Playing just about everything is just part of what I do, and with that comes exposure to some heinous things, but I usually have a general idea of what I am getting myself into. I knew that NeverDead was questionable before I started, and I knew that Blades of Time was not going to make Bayonetta nervous in any way, but I was not expecting to to be as aggressively bad as it was. The game knew what worked and intentionally did the opposite. There is no other way to explain it. I do not want to live in a world where a game as bad as Blades of Time can just appear out of the ether. It has to be intentional.

...

Blades of Time 'wins'. NeverDead at least tried. Blades of Time punished me for playing it. The game has no redeeming features. It has no reason to exist, not even as an example of how not to make games. The fact that Gaijin Entertainment continues to exist while THQ is selling off its assets, struggling to remain financially solvent is a god damn crime.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's not my fault!

That little complaint about how Sleeping Dogs handles auto-saving? It combined with another bit of user interface oddness and cost me about ten minutes of progress last night. Sure, that might not sound like much, but that ten minutes was two drug busting missions that I finished by the skin of my teeth. It went down as follows:

1. It's too close to bed time to start another story missions, I'll take care of some of the side missions in another area of the city instead

2. Damn, these are hard

3. Enough! I will save and quit. This is where things fall apart. Save/Quit is one menu choice. Choosing that opens a drop down and I missed what was hi-lighted. The save slot screen looks the save for the save and load options, so I loaded my last manual save instead of saving over it. Once I realized what I had done all that was left was my last auto-save, and that was missing the last bit of work I had gotten done.

No, I didn't read the warnings that popped up. I was tired.

Shut up, it's not my fault!



...

The game is still good. Shen just made the leap from good guy who does some bad things to get the job done to grey guy who does bad things because it makes other things more convenient. I just shot my way through a warehouse full of guys and kidnapped a man with no hesitation. The crisis on conscience is coming,  the next missions objective is 'go to bed,' so I am pretty sure that Shen is going to dream about dead triad members. Sounds like the perfect time to knock off all of the races that unlocked when I bought a new crotch rocket.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

They made a Minecraft movie



More precisely, a documentary.

It almost makes me feel bad for never having played it.

Almost.

This is your side of town, this is mine

Sleeping Dogs allows the player to wander around its whole world from the outset. It is even kind enough to give you a motorcycle so you don't need to steal someone else's ride. The city isn't overly large when compared to other sandbox games, but it makes up for the lake of square mileage with density. Every street corner has a unique landmark, modeled with originality and care. This isn't the sharpest looking game but it wrings every little bit it can out of its engine. Once I remembered to drive on the opposite side of the road simple wandering around town, picking fights with opposing gangs and grabbing health pick ups was a pleasure.

Just because you can go everywhere doesn't necessarily mean you should. I found this out the hard way when I rolled up on a bunch of dudes camped out in the sewers. Up to that point I had taken care of all my disputes with my fists. Those bastards skipped that hand to hand nonsense and shot me to death. The fact that I hadn't even seen a tutorial on the shooting controls yet made it clear that I should not have been there yet. This leads to my only complaint about the game so far: how in handles death. Sleeping Dogs punishes you for dying the same way Grand Theft Auto does: you wake up in the hospital fully healed, significantly poorer, and nowhere near where you left off. It's the relocation that bothers me. Some of the sub-missions are in remote places and dying will consume several minutes just driving back to where I left off. Take the money, just don't waste my time.

I have a notoriously short attention span for Grand Theft Auto games. There is no good reason why; I played Saboteur and Just Cause 2 out to completion and they are basically all the same game. Perhaps the difference is not the game but who I have been charged with playing. In those two games, and in Sleeping Dogs, I am the hero. Flawed, perhaps, but I play the good guy. Being the good guy means that I take a little more care to not run down pedestrians and flee from the police instead of starting running gun battles. GTA is so devoid of these purer motivations that I went from doing missions to seeing how many police I could get to chase me at once to getting bored and turning it off. The main character is a scum bag so I acted the part.

There is just a bit of snow on the ground and I am considering using that as a way to skip out on going to the climbing gym tonight. Sleeping Dogs is a powerful motivator.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Missing the market

Epic Mickey 2 was dead for me before I even turned it on. Actually playing the game only made it worse.

The first game did not exist for me in my Nintendo free world, which is a bit of a shame because I was curious as to what Warren Spector was going to do in the confines of the license. This was supposed to be a darker, more mischievous Mickey, as long as you ignore that Square did the exact same thing with him in Kingdom Hearts 2, elevating him to in game demigod status. Epic Mickey 2 is a direct sequel to a game I did not play, a game that is not even available on my platform of choice. A little back story would be helpful, at least by way on character introductions. Who is this rabbit guy, and the singing mad doctor with bad teeth, and why is Goofy part animatronic? No explanation is given, so I am forced to believe the entire games takes place in Mickey's head after a long, long night of the town.

Dismissing new players is bad, but when your target audience often accepts anything that moves and has a high voice as preaching the gospel of Walt I can understand it. This only becomes a problem if, A. you play everything eventually and have the audacity to expect a little bit of narrative in your game (me) or B. you have a child who does not but gets stuck because the game is built specifically for co-op. There are sections that I found frustratingly difficult, both because they were designed poorly and because they require more that a child's worth of dexterity. If I was pulled into to this by one of my kids I would be both bored and frustrated at the same time. Strike two.

All platforming games have 'collect a million of this' as a requirement. The good ones, like Rayman and Mario, treat it as the secondary objective or something to go back to after clearing a level the first time. Epic Mickey 2 treats bull shit collection as the main game and everything else is just extra. There are red tickets to buy things, scrap metal to build things, scraps of material to sew into things, pins to trade for more pins, pictures to take, gremlins to free, ghost and pigs to reunite, spirits to conjure, and probably more but that is all I can remember. The killer: none of these have any affect on how the game is actually played. It is stuff collection for the sake of collecting more stuff.



God bless that man.

I skipped all the stuff and the game was done in about six hours. It came as such a surprise that I had to hit up GameFaqs to see if I was actually done. Yup, all there was left to do was collect more stuff, and who has time for that. Strike three.

...

The intention to purchase Black Knight Sword was real. I would have done it, too, but I decided to plug in Sleeping Dogs 'just to see how it is.' God damn that game is good. It looks like my time is booked for the rest of the year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Demo Friday: I don't get it

Suda 51 peaked early. Anyone who owned a Gamecube and did not play Killer 7 should be ashamed of themselves. After that he games have gotten more and more sane, thus losing the element that distracted from how poorly they actually played. Wonder what he and Grasshopper Manufacture have been up to lately?



Yeah.

Black Knight Sword is as bizarre. Things start out with the player hanging from a noose, presumably dead, them falling and being possessed by a spirit and becoming the black knight. He is then attacked by heads with legs who bleed profusely when stabbed. It looks like a gothic puppet show, right down to taking place on a stage and the audience gasping when you die. It is certainly stylish, I am just no sure if I like the style. I think it hits a little too close to Outland, an excellent Metroid type game that looked like a cross between Tron and the African jungle.

The demo took me all the way through to end of the first level, cutting off right as the boss showed up. Ordinarily this would be plenty of time to make a decision about the game, but I just don't get Black Knight Sword. As a side scrolling 2D platformer it is rather sparse. No new moves were learned and there isn't much exploration. Yes, it was only the first level, but according to the achievement list there are only five total. My worry is that it will end up like another very unique looking arcade game that I purchased, played for a day, and never went back to: Dishwasher Samurai.

I feel bad, but I don't know what to think about Black Knight Sword. I feel worse because I purchased The Unfinished Swan sight unseen and was rather unimpressed by it That experience has made me more hesitant than usual about jumping on new games.

The other XBLA release this week doesn't make any sense either, but for complete different reasons:

This is educational?
An update of the DS game Brain Games! Who asked for this?

No one? That's what I though.

I will admit that the bit I played through was fun, though that was because it was the first two sections of each of the categories. I would imagine that it ramps up quickly, switching from patting you on the back for solving simple puzzles to mocking you for being an idiot and ogling the female host's completely gratuitous cleavage. I have always wondered why my IQ was, but I am not going to spend 800 points on a game to tell me. Not when there are other games I should spend 800 points on.

Fuck it, I am buying Black Knight Sword. I am going to guess that it is an acquired and I feel the need to acquire it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Choose, but choose wisely

I don't know if I am going to go through and hyperlink everything, but up above you will see links to all (I think) of the game I played in 2010 and 2011. There have collated for no good reason, I just like to make lists.

...

Playing as Ada Wong, once the forced stealth section in the first level was over, has been a refreshing change. There is no companion AI to get in the way. I don't know why so many of the doors took two people to open, but the least my partner could do was stay close and help. Ada will have none of that nonsense and opens doors all by her damn self. Her part weaves through all three of the previous campaigns, letting be relive (for bettor or for worse) many of the boss fights that were frustrating the first time around from a different point of view. It is not always clear if what I am doing is actually having any affect on the proceedings, but some of the fights were so hard the first time that I do not miss them.

This last section also featured a puzzle that completely stumped me. I was  looking for clues hidden in the environment, something obscure that appeared to have nothing to do with the problem at hand. What I thought was a typical Resident Evil puzzle was actually a sensible physics based one: knock down the zombie from the ceiling to hold down a switch. The game did something that made sense and I missed it because I was expecting things that didn't make sense.

Ada, or more precisely, two Ada's, will not redeem Resident Evil 6. This is the worst high budget, AAA title I have played in a long time. I stand by my statement that the series needs a reboot or a shot in the head. Nothing else will save it from itself. Resident Evil has so many years of gaming weight dragging in down that even when Capcom tries to switch things up it doesn't work. Make it an action game, but make it an action game all the way. Or make it survival horror again, but for god's sake don't try to mix them. The first Dead Space beat them to it and will not easily be surpassed. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Yes, qi is a word, and it has a plural form

I rarely use my phone for much beyond talking and email. This is both because I have little patience for a screen that small and because it is a Windows phone so the pickings are slim. My phone is not an entertainment device, it is for work. Last week, over breakfast, I was poking around the marketplace and came across something called AlphaJax. It was free and a small download, so what the hell. It took seconds to realize my error: this was Words With Friends, and I was screwed.

I have never touched an Apple device long enough to play the real Words With Friends, but having seen nothing but screenshots its heritage is still obvious: it's online Scrabble made by a company with incredibly good lawyers. I really enjoy Scrabble but have no one to play it with, though this may be because I play dirty. The best scoring word is secondary; I am always looking one move ahead to try not to give my opponent any special tiles. Think of it as turtling; my down back nature has moved beyond Street Fighter, apparently.

AlphaJax works as well as a free game should, though it would be nice to be able to abandon games with people who simply stop taking their turn. I have two games that haven't moved past my first word and I can't get them out of my queue. This would make more angry if I didn't have another game that I am currently winning by a score of 274 to 92.

Checking for updates has become a reflex. It's an itch that doesn't go away and it only gets worse when I check and no one has played.

...

Why yes, I am still trying to avoid talking about Resident Evil 6. If you must  know, my current annoyances are boss fights recycled between characters, mandatory stealth sections with no way of knowing where enemies are and characters that are only awesome when I am not controlling them. There will be more.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A bit embarrassed of that, actually

I have been playing Resident Evil 6 for a week and a half and have found a way to not talk about it after comparing it to left handed self gratification. There have been a few points in the last twenty or so hours where I felt like retracting the insult. It still isn't Resident Evil, but it worked because it suddenly embraced being not-Resident Evil. Shambling zombies disappeared, replaced by gun wielding not-zombies that can grow back most of their head if they are not quickly finished off. The cover system is terrible, but eventually it becomes necessary and I understood why it was shoe horned in. 'This isn't so bad,' I would think. 'It certainly looks amazing, and now and then when I am allowed to play instead of watch the game it doesn't fall off a cliff.'

Then it falls off a cliff with something ridiculous like spawning me in a room with a monster who can kill me in one hit who then killed me, forcing me to repsawn in the same room but closer to the monster. There are out of the blue quick time events that you cannot pass with out dying the first time. There are trick shot boss fights where you have to hit the glowing head on top of a flailing tendril of flesh in a very limited amount of time, only I managed to begin the section with the wrong weapon equipped and the one I did need required a reload. That took about a dozen retries.

Resident Evil 6 is trying to have its brains and eat them, too. It wants to be a sprawling, epic action game, of which there are many, but still retain the Resident Evil quirks. They two don't mix and the game suffers for the attempt. It also tries to pull in threads from so many different games that I have no idea who or what is going on. I feel like I need to go through the wiki articles of all the previous games just to figure out who is on whose side. Is Ada Wong evil or not? Who the hell is Sherry Birkin? How did Wesker manage to have a kid, did he grow the child in a test tube?

Resident Evil either needs a total reboot, wiping the slate clean, or it needs to be left alone until the middle of next generation. Capcom will do neither.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Demo Friday: Get Out!

I wasn't kidding when I said that I didn't know what MOBA stood for. I had to look it up, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, but I have no idea what it means. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that LoL was a MOBA, but that does not mean that I know what LoL is, either. This is a huge hole in my gaming knowledge; League of Legends has streams that pull in numbers that dwarf fighting game tournaments and I have never watched a single game. Upon first hearing someone try to explain them they were lumped in with of two genres that I don't even attempt to play, regardless of quality: real time strategy. In the distant past some effort was put into trying to learn StarCraft and WarCraft 2. It did not go well at all and I have since avoided any and all titles that include moving units, building things, zerg rushes and technology trees. Of late that has come to include even turn based strategy games. Judging from my experience with King's Bounty, it was the right decision.

Screen shots of this game all look exactly the same.

Guardians of Middle Earth is a console attempt at a PC-centric game type. I was rather nervous about what kind of acrobatics my fingers would have to perform to make things happen, but thanks to the tutorial it seemed fairly easy. You only directly control a single hero who has a standard attack and several special attacks with varying cool down times. So far, so good. Soldiers automatically spawn from your base and automatically move down lanes towards your opponent. Hold on, lanes?

No explanation. The tutorial moves on.

As your hero gains levels you can upgrade your own defense towers and soldiers. There are also shrines you can occupy to gain temporary bonuses. You don't build any of these things, they are just there on the map, ripe for the taking. On top of those there are neutral monsters scattered around that can be killed for experience. From my point of view it looked like an action RPG with a bit of tower defense sprinkled on top. No problem! Off to the training skirmish.

There was my Gandalf, in all his wizardly glory. There were the soldiers who I did not control but had to protect and assist. Why can't I control them, or at the least specify which tower they should attack? Hold on, there are other named characters here, better than soldiers but I still can't control them. All my poor Gandalf can do is pick a group to tag along with and, surprise, get killed. This happened about three times before I turned it off. Obviously there is something that I am missing, some bit of strategy or customization that was not explained in the previous tutorials. The game felt intentionally obtuse, designed to keep newbs on the outside for as long as possible. It worked, I will not be trying again.

Fighting games, especially Street Fighter, are equally difficult to start on from scratch without outside, preferably human, assistance. You could play for months and not know what a link is and why it is important. Guardians of Middle Earth feels exactly the same. There are genre terms, like lane, that are simply not explained because the player should already know them. And if you don't then gtfo. The tutorial was okay right up to the point that is stopped explaining what the buttons do. I can figure that much out on my own, tell how the game works. Give me a leg to stand on so I am not stomped by the computer in the mission that is supposed to teach me what to do.

How to play is not button config, it is fucking how to play.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Who are all these people and why aren't they undead?

Tomorrow's Demo Friday should be interesting. I don't even know what MOBA stands for.

...

It took around seven hours, but Resident Evil 6 finally did something that was recognizable as 'Resident Evil' beyond herbs and an arbitrary inventory limit. The final boss dies about eight times, each more permanent than the last, to finally come back as a giant zombie eating fly. It stopped be amusing after two or three, but I will admit that his middle form, a giant T-Rex made out of bone with an eyeball in his mouth, was one of the more ridiculous things I have ever seen. The game just kept trying to top itself, in the process moving from 'oh, this is kinda to cool' right past 'damn' to 'are you kidding?'

It is clear that Capcom meant for Resident Evil 6 to be epic is both scope and length. Leon saw the president turned into a zombie, two towns destroyed, the national security adivisor morph into to previously mentioned giant fly, all while chasing after Ada Wong, who may or may not be human, and bumping into Wesker's son and other stars of previous games. Resident Evil's back story makes Mortal Kombat's look simple and sensible; I have no idea who most of these characters are, so putting them all in the same place at the same time did not have the effect they were looking for.

Honestly, they just got in the way and took up what little screen real estate was left because of how close the camera was to Leon's ass all the time.

I have three more sections to go. If the length of the first is any indication I will not get to play the Dragonborn expansion for Skyrim until the end of next week. Such sacrifices.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On second thought

I don't remember if I told my story about seeing The Dark Knight Rises, but my reactions to the second viewing, this time in the confines of my basement, require it. It was not opening day, I do remember that, but it was the opening weekend. I bought a single ticket without bothering to look where it was. It should not have surprised me that I ended up in the front row on the far right. In wake of the shooting in Aurora a few days prior there being an exit door right there did not do much for my concentration. Still, this was almost the exact same way I saw The Dark Knight, so I did not complain.

Nolan's Batman is not the same as previous incarnations. He is both more noble and weaker, and with the notable exception of Batman: The Animated Series, my favorite. Seeing him get a happy ending made me happy. There was a feeling of contentment and closure with both his escape and the Robin tease. Only after the movie was done did I stop to think about the villains and how they ended up. As a fair weather Batman fan not seeing the Talia reveal coming was an embarrassment. It also bothered me because it was unnecessary. Tonight, knowing who she was and what was coming, she ruined every scene she was in.

Talia is a problem not because her presence serves no purpose, which it doesn't, but that it cheapens the real mastermind: Bane. Nolan's Bane, just like his Batman, is not the same as previous versions. He is not a mindless killer, not some brute held on a chain. Bane is Batman without the stubbornness that keeps Bruce from taking that one last step off the edge. Bane should have been the boy that the escaped instead of Talia's protector. It would have completed the character.

He also should have had a more noble end than being shot by a tights wearing floozy from off screen.

Without Talia the fight between Bane and Batman could have come to its own conclusion, with Batman having the choice to kill Bane and deciding not to, deciding not to follow Band over the edge (yes, I know that fight was with Azreal, not Batman, in Knightfall, cut me some slack). Instead he is stabbed in the back, literally, Bane is punked and Talia dies in a truck crash.

The Dark Knight Rises is certainly good, but it is not as good as The Dark Knight, and not just because Joker isn't in it. Bane could have been just as good. He would have, too, if he didn't have the rug pulled out from under him by an evil deus ex machina with boobs and a knife.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tissues not included

Yahtzee has a term for set piece heavy, linear action titles: spunk gargle wee wee. It is a very not subtle way for calling such games masturbatory; after all the smoke, mirrors and fantasies fade away all you have left is what is in your hand. Perhaps a controller, perhaps something else. I don't disagree, but I also do not see this as a "bad thing". Call of Battlefield: War Fighter 2 games are the digital equivalent of roller coasters: lots of screaming, perhaps some vomiting, and you end up just where you left off. They don't pretend to be anything more in their single player campaigns, the player knows exactly what he or she is getting, so if you don't like it stop bitching.

Thus ends my defense of modern shooters. There are certainly problems with them, ranging from regenerating health to trying much too hard to be 'realistic' to the point where the fun begins to disappear, but as a whole they can be counted on for a few days distraction. When the spunk gargle wee wee starts to spread to other genres there is a problem. Resident Evil invented the survival horror genre. The series came and went from relevance, peaking with Code Veronica. Capcom then successfully resurrected the series with Resident Evil 4 and RE:make, two of the best third part titles on the GameCube. This resurgence was also a high point, with 5 being 'pretty good for a game long escort mission' and 6 forgetting that it is a Resident Evil game.

Resident Evil 6 starts, I repeat, starts, with a quick time event. Literally press X not to die. If this were a linear action game and I was pressing X to get on the roller coaster I would not mind. But this is not spunk gargle wee wee, it is Resident Evil. I expect cheap jump scares accompanied by silly puzzles with items that I need to combine in nonsensical ways. Nope, this Resident Evil is, so far, an action game. It is an action game hampered with ridiculous controls more in tune with what Resident Evil is supposed to be. If you want to throw a grenade you have to manually select the grenade with the d-pad, aim, then throw. This barely works against one zombie. Pulling it off while being dog piled by a dozen is a great way to blow off you own legs. The herbs from all the previous games are back but they must be manually mixed and then loaded into the magical herb dispensing Tic-Tac box, which again can't be done reliably during combat.

To be crude, playing Resident Evil 6 is like masturbating with with your off hand.

...that may be the worst thing I have ever written. I like it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I haven't done this for a while.


Watch him crack in the middle of the second round. It makes me happy.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Just enough hell

After a solid week of Doom I am grown immune to blood smeared walls, inverted crosses, haunting laughter and demons that appear out of thin air. In retrospect the games never reach the same level of gut wrenching horror that the old Silent Hills and Amnesia did. It's hard to make the player feel vulnerable while carrying eight different weapons, that last of which is capable of killing any non-boss monster in one hit. What Doom does offer is near constant state of anticipation. At any moment, from any direction, a wall could open up and this could come walking out:

Hi there, how are ya?
Playing with a controller creates a new set of problems. At point blank range I do not want to use my rocket launcher. The plasma rifle is one click of the left bumper away, but if that is low on ammo the chain gun is two more. It is very easy to get stuck with the wrong weapon in hand, furiously back pedaling while searching for the correct one. Resurrection of Evil likes to hide monsters directly behind doors so I had to alter what I was holding every time I opened one. The double barreled shot gun is the safest choice; it will one shot all smaller enemies and stun larger ones long enough to run away. 

This was not the only victim of the console transition. There was no option to enable captions, something that one cares about but me. Checkpoints are poorly placed and there is no way to map a 'quick save' to a face button. Even the frame rate suffers a bit from one of the new enemies introduced in Resurrection of Evil. To be fair, he did the same thing to the PC version. I think it was one of his evil powers.

I remembered bits and pieces of Doom 3 and even less of Resurrection of Evil, but it was refreshing to start the Lost Levels because I was going in blind. They are unremarkable, following another marine who survived the initial attack from the first game. It does have the best depiction of hell of all three campaigns. Hell was pretty tame before; yes, there was screaming and lava and even a cyberdemon, but it was mostly caves and castles. Hell in the Lost Levels takes it a step further, with architecture that itself is unsettling that is then filled with more monsters at once than anything that led up to it. There was a moment where I was standing at the bottom of a hill while two pinky demons charged towards me followed on either side by imps that I longed for my cannonball gun.

Sam could have handled that, no problem.

Demo Friday: There are no new games

This is just silly.

Last week the only releases on XBLA were three Kinect games. This week there is another Kinect game and three Saturn re-releases. There are all fighting games, two of which I had never played before, but the demos were all limited to sixty seconds, most of which was spent at the character select and loading screens. By the time I actually got to push buttons there was about thirty seconds left. This is not near enough time to actually get a feel for a game, much less talk about it in an intelligent way.

Virtua Fighter 2 - Having had a cup of coffee with the most recent Virtua Fighter I at least understood the mechanics. The button layout was odd, which wasted by first sixty seconds, and I spent the next few rounds trying to do moves that didn't exist yet.

Fighting Vipers - Looks like The Warriors: The Fighting Game. Button layout was the same as Virtua Fighter, so my fist round was not entirely wasted, but I could not figure out any moves. It looked like bits or armor could be broken off and that the arena walls were destructible, but I could not play long enough to see any of that happen.

Sonic The Fighters - No. Just no. Correction notice: this game did so poorly in the arcade that the Saturn port was canceled. I am not surprised.

...I don't want to buy a Kinect, I really don't.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

People are still talking about The Line?

An interesting exchange between myself and some random person. For context, we are discussing this article about a rather lengthy deconstruction of Spec Ops: The Line, one of the (in my opinion) more over rated and over discussed games of this generation. I admit to starting out a bit snarky.

...

Chamberlain:  That's quite a bit of attention for a mediocre shooter...
And yes, I did play it.

Brutus: That's because you're seeing it as a shooter only. It's a brilliant piece of narrative, for a game (I can't wait until I no longer have to use that qualifier). I believe it sits beside Bioshock in terms of its narrative.

Chamberlain: If by that you mean that it features the same 'would you kindly' flavor of twist, I suppose I can agree. But Bioshock would be entertaining to play even if all the story bits were removed. The mechanics itself were interesting. Take away the holier than thou, you should feel bad for enjoying cathartic virtual violence finger waggling and The Line is a middle grade shooter, at best. It's as if half way through its development someone realized that they didn't have the cash to keep up with the AAA franchises and decided to mock them instead using the cliffs notes for Heart of Darkness for guidance.

A game can be both engaging to play and think about. Celebrating one for abandoning the first in service of the second make no sense to me.

Brutus: I personally enjoyed Spec Ops' gameplay. I thought it felt good, up until the terrible stuff started happening, then I felt bad for playing.

Also, it sounds as if you're uninformed about the game and the apparent lengths they went to to convey it's message; if you can say it had a statement to make and wasn't just holding up a mirror to shooter players without casting judgment. Killing Is Harmless might help with pointing out how much thought went into the game and narrative.

This wasn't a thrown together game because they didn't know what they were doing. It's so obvious if you pay attention to things other than the next person you're going to perforate with bullets. I think that statement is very unfair, disrespectful, and downright ignorant. I never felt preached to in Spec Ops, but I understood what they were saying.

Chamberlain: All the game did was preach. It was subtle to begin with, but by the end it was screaming 'Look what you did! How could you! Shame on you! You were the monster all along!' Allowing you to turn on your own rescuers just reinforces that.

It was not enjoyable on either an intellectual or game play level. I think The Line preys upon something that people think they should feel guilty about but rarely do. It's an unnecessary cheap shot that attempts to shame the genre which the game itself inhabits.

Brutus:  I never felt preached to. It was consistent in what it was conveying but not judgmental. It never explicitly said shooters are bad. I'm confident there are people out there who bought it and saw it as only a shooter and missed everything it was doing.

If you felt preached to then you likely felt some level of guilt about what you were playing. That's a significant thing for a game to be able to do. My ending was not the same as yours. I turned the gun on myself. The option to shoot your rescuers is exactly that; an option. You didn't have to shoot them, you chose to shoot them. You bear responsibility for that, not the game. All it reinforces is your view of games and the way you play them.

The Line is far from a "cheap shot", it's a surgical dissection of the shooter game and the content therein. In order to execute this dismantling as well as it did it had to inhabit those tropes in order to yank the rug out from under you and subvert them. It lulled you into a sense of security by making you initially think it's like every other shooter you've played, then it pulls its mask off when you are nice and comfortable.

I believe The Line is one of the most important games ever made. It seems we are just going to disagree on this.

(I inserted the emphasis. But really?)

Chamberlain:  I never said I shot the marines that come for you in end, just that it was an option. Which I did take after reloading the last save just to see what would happen.

I never felt guilt, just bemusement over what they were obviously trying to do. Look, civilians! And you melted them! There was no choice given on using the white phosphorus or not. I was watching a character's poor decisions based on his decent into madness, but it was his problem, not mine. The only choice I had was at the very end, and since I could take them all it wasn't much of a choice anyway.

Bioshock is important. Flower is important. Doom is important. The Line is a foot note. A foot note that is trying really hard to say something, but still a foot note because it is an incomplete experience.

...

I am not going to pursue this any further, as Brutus, whoever you are, and I are not going to come to any sort of consensus. His defense of the game makes me think that it struck a very personal chord for him, something that it could not do for me. Perhaps he is a soldier, has seen battle, even killed a man. I have never fired a gun in my life. Games do different things to different people. What I see as pandering and ham fisted rings quite true for him. Who am I to tell him what he feels is wrong.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It still cheats, too

Not playing on a keyboard means that I do not have a quick save button to reflexively hit every few minutes. Doom 3 BFG does try to alleviate this with a check point system but the check points are so far apart that they might as well not be there. Last night, just as I thought to myself 'it is time to go to bed so I should save, a surprise cacaodemon knocked me off a bridge. Where does something that looks like this hide?


Really big monster closets, that's where. Enemies spawning out of nowhere is usually despicable, but I am pretty sure Doom invented it, and in the context of the game it makes at least a little sense. They are demons, there was a portal to their home opened, now they are on Mars and can teleport around.

I didn't say it was logical, just that it was 'Doom' logical.

Enemies spawning out of the ether does get old when it becomes predictable. There is a noise and a flash and an imp appears, but never just one. As soon as you dispatch the one in front of you turn around and there will be another one there. Predictability destroys the mood Doom has so carefully created, so the game ups the ante with more and bigger enemies. Hell knights are never fun. Two hell knights is just not fair, but two hell knights with imps and a revenant hiding in the back is just mean.

Parts of the game feel very familiar, all the way down to where items are hidden and where enemies will spawn. It is almost frightening how much of the game my brain decided to stash in long term storage. Other times I have no idea where I am and what I need to do. This transition, when it happens, it more frightening than any demon based imagery. This probably speaks to my own personal neuroses and it certainly explains why I so rarely play a game through more than once. The first time through I cam cautious out of necessity. Knowing what is coming makes me lazy, but 'knowing' what is coming and being wrong is so, so frustrating.

Monday, November 26, 2012

It still works

When Doom 3 came out in 2004 I was near the end of my 'I must have a PC that can run anything on the shelf at max settings' phase. My machine still had teeth enough to run it, and while I had to bring my visual expectations more in line with reality to achieve a solid frame rate, it was a great looking game. The darkness never bothered me even though creating it required a leap of logic greater than the one needed to accept demons invading Mars. Not being able to wield a flash light and a gun at the same time created an environment where even zombies with no guns are a threat. It was tense when nothing was going on and teeth grinding when surrounded my monsters. Who cares if it didn't make any sense.

My expectations for the BFG Edition were not very high. The game is eight years old, how good could it look compared to new shooters like Crysis 2 and CoDBLOPS? Good enough, because the game is just as good at making me jump at nothing and peer into the darkness looking for health pick ups as it was before. 'Fixing' the flashlight by attaching it to the marine's shoulder does make things easier but it does not break the game. It would be better if the flash light actually cast shadows in real time but the engine is old, I need to give it some slack. The sound is still perfect, sometimes giving the player clues as to what is coming and others out right lying. Switching between weapons doesn't work as well, but until Microsoft lets me plug a mouse and keyboard to play shooters the right way there is nothing to be done.

My only complaint about the original game was how monsters' corpses all disappeared shortly after they were killed. This was, for me anyway, one of the best parts of the first two games. You could walk back through the level and marvel and the carnage you had unleashed. This environmental consistency always makes me smile; see Titan Quest for anther excellent example. Doom 3 had none of this and this annoyed me enough to dig up a mod that forced demon corpses to stay in the map. It completely fixed the problem and also revealed why it was not the default option: later levels either had hallways blocked by bodies or slowed down to a crawl because of how many of them there were laying around. No modding the Xbox version so I have to deal with them turning to dust and denying me that little perverse pleasure.

Good games stay good games and Doom 3 has aged surprisingly well. Rage was good, but not Doom good. This may just be a way for Id to fill the coffers in an an attempt to get Doom 4 off the ground. That is fine with me, just save it for the next generation of consoles so I can have my mind blown again.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I don't post much on the weekends...

But two things have come up that need to be recorded:

1. The end of Assassins Creed 3 was a huge disappointment. There is a last minute twist regarding the precursors and who is on what side and then Desmond dies. That's it. Some effort is made to wrap up Conner's story arc, but that, too, ends with an unexplained twist that I am pretty sure is nothing more than a way to unlock cheats for a second play through. I was not impressed.

2. I played a little bit of Sony's Super Battle Smash Rip Off game after failing to return some RAM to Best Buy because I lost the receipt. It is absolute butts. Think Smash Brothers, which is already more button resiliency tester than game, and cross it with Thrill Kill without all the tongue in cheek S&M. Yes, I am well aware that Smash can be played at a high level when all of the items are removed and play limited to a few specific levels, but that is like saying Star Wars: Masters of the Teras Kasi is a great fighting game if you only play as Luke and Vader. If you have to put that many qualifications on liking something then it isn't worth the effort.

The point is, Playstation All Star Battle Royal is, at first look, less of a fighting game than Smash. There will not be a second look.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Demo Friday: Going backwards

Alright, it's Demo Friday! It would be a much better Demo Friday if there were new releases for XBLA that did not require Kinect. I will not have that foolishness in my house (because the ceiling in my basement is too low) so instead I am going to work backwards chronologically through games until I reach one that I have not played.

This certainly looks exciting.
I have nostalgically lamented on how Crimson Skies needs a modern update so many times that even I am tired of talking about it. Flight combat games either err on the side of simulation or arcade, trying to appease just one of the two extremes. They never hit the balance that Crimson Skies did and their multiplayer is consequently never as much fun. Dogfight 1942 looked to have potential. There are multiple control schemes to choose from; I chose arcade but it was too arcade. For starters up and down were not automatically reversed, which makes no sense, and turning the plain was just a matter of steering left or right. No elevator was required. Yes, this is easy, but how am I supposed to to cool things like barrel roll around incoming fire? No matter, if the game is interesting, I can forgive the over simplified controls.

Extra Credits did a segment a few weeks back on how demos almost never work out for the developer and they are rarely worth the time and money sunk into them. I don't disagree, but when a service compels you to provide one making sure it shows your game in the best possible light would seem like a good idea. Dogfight 1942 has two sample missions, which is fine, but they are both with the same plane and both are feature nothing but air to air combat. I don't know if there are more planes to unlock or if there are more interesting missions. All the information I have to make a decision is in the demo and the demo is very, very boring.

This could have been easily fixed by giving me a different plane for the second trial mission. Have me torpedoing ships or dive bombing hardened ground targets, anything besides the exact same thing that I was doing in the first mission. 'Wow,' I would think, 'there is enough variety here to keep me interested, here are my 1400 points.' What I actually thought was 'well, that was a chore. And the second level is more of the same. Pass.'

Did anyone involved with the creation of the game even play the demo? I almost feel bad dismissing the game so quickly but their inept sales person did such a poor job selling that I have been forced to take by business elsewhere.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Worst coming soon

Judging from my handy list to the left it is not going to be easy to pick the worst of the year. Games I did not finished are disqualified, both because some I know are good and just weren't for me (Dragons Dogma) and others were probably good but I didn't have the correct hardware to play them (House of the Dead Overkill).

I really want to single out Risen 2, but I need to stick the my own rules. This also eliminates the 'new' Twisted Metal, which was abhorrent. 

Now that I break it down, by my own metric, this won't be so hard at all.

Right foot yellow, left foot green

I have found a theme to latch on to in Assassins Creed 3, one that is much different than an of the previous games. The Assassins have always been presented as the 'good' guys who do what is necessary for the greater good. This greater good also means stopping the Templars, the 'bad' guys, who just want to control everything and everyone. As the series got longer in the tooth some nonsense about the end of the world has crept in, a plot wrinkle that I could do without, but the good buy/bad guy trope never wavered.

Not so this time around. Play for the first several hours as a Templar proves that their methods are not all that different from the Assassins. Their internal workings are almost indistinguishable. Once the Assassins begin their resurgence thanks to Conner the good buy/bad guy dichotomy is gone. When the game actually makes good on it name and the player gets to *gasp* kill someone the post stab, pre-death speeches come back. The Templars are always surprised at what Conner has done because they thought there were doing what was right. Conner quickly picks up on this, feeling bad for what he has done because these are simply men of conviction, just like himself. The player is forced to wonder if he is doing the right thing.

For example, a few chapters ago a member of Conner's tribe came to him looking for help. One of the Templars was going to forcibly buy out their land, land that they are sworn to protect because there is some important knick knack hidden there. Conner's first attempt to stop him resulted in the Boston Tea party. He followed the money. Achilies chastised Connor, saying that he should have killed them Templar.

'There was no need.'

Skip forward a few hours and he is back, this time with soldiers. There is a fight and this time Connor finishes the job.

'I would have saved them,' says the Templar as he dies, 'I would have protected your people. Found a place for them. Now they will never have a home.'

Connor doesn't believe him, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of American history knows that the native americans were the New World's punching bag for hundreds of years. It is possible that they would have been better off without the Assassins' interference. Maybe, just maybe, the Assassins are the 'bad guys' this time around.

There is another twist coming, I can feel it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Do not pass go

Things were going so well until Assassins Creed 3 decided to change things up for a bit and send Connor to prison. The way he is caught is just plain embarrassing: bonked on the head from behind after chasing a Templar around New York in a very Benny Hill like scenario. He makes one escape attempt, fails, is framed for killing the warden and plotting against General Washington, and is sentenced to hang from the neck until he is dead. Connor's general bad ass nature in combat makes it easy to forget that he has only been an assassin for a few years and that everyone else, including most of the Templars, are cooler than he is. Conner's progression as an assassin is non existent. He started with all the weapons and all them moves so when the game makes him vulnerable it feels like at best a step back and at worse forced and insincere.

The two hour side mission to jail and back was also poorly timed. Connor finally opened up New York and I was looking forward to wandering around the city, finding all of the vantage points and recruiting more lackeys for my guild. Nope, you are locked into one long encounter and when that is done you get kicked out of the animus. At least the two modern scenarios have been both interesting and different than everything else. Nathan Drake Desmond has become a reasonable assassin in his own right and getting to play as him helps keep this third game attached the previous ones. I look forward to his story resolving, as I am told it does, though I will miss hearing John de Lancie verbally beat Desmond about the head and neck for being a fuck up and wasting most of his life.

...

This is a cool picture:


I don't know if Capcom obtaining a trademark on 'Fighters of Capcom' means anything. A coffee table book with illustrations by Udon would be nice. A giant game featuring all of them, including the lost characters from the EX games sounds like it would be nice, but in reality in would a cluster fuck.

Now, a CCG with each character as a card...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Protection fees... Yeah...

Assassins Creed 3, a game that focuses on everything but what I actually want to do, has managed to do something that I did not think was possible. It took piloting a tall ship through treacherous weather and impossibly tight canals while avoiding enemy cannon fire fun. I actually look forward to each memory ending and new naval missions opening up. There are 100% out of place and make no sense at all (really, the native american kid shows up and you let him pilot on the first day and then make him captain shortly thereafter, sure) but they easily the highlight of the show so far. Can you imagine is Risen 2, instead of being terrible from top to bottom and front to back, had something like this? I might have played it for more than two hours.

Enough praise, time to go back to things that Assassins Creed 3 gets wrong. Ezio may be little more than Renaissance Batman but I really enjoyed the mafioso way he went about making money. He would find old,
abandoned store fronts, fix them up, get them back in business, then demand a protection fee. Hell, he even pulled this off with national monuments. In the end, everyone was working for Ezio, whether they knew it or not. How does Conner make money? He sends out caravans to sell wolf pelts. Correction, he builds the caravans and sends them off in the vain hope that they make it back without being raided by the English. Not the most glamorous way of funding the Assassins return. Not the most effectual either. After fighting through the menus once and sending off thee caravans full of animal corpses I got a message stating that I was in the top 50% of players for money made via caravan. This means that at least half of the people had the same reaction to the tutorial as I did ('fuck that'), only they were smart
enough not to go back for more.
...I love that meme.

...

Is it a bad thing that the WiiU came out on Sunday and I didn't even notice? My separation from gaming retail is finally complete. There is a small part of me that wants to get one to play with because it is, for a few moments, new and shiny. The rest of me looks my ridiculous backlog and remembers that I want a Surface Pro next year and knows that I am not rich.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hey, there it is!

It only took eight hours, but I finally found the game on the Assassins Creed disc that actually has to do with assassins. I had to hunt animals, climb trees, pilot a boat and finally turn my nose up at a hideous menu based trading simulator that sneaked in from a different game. I went through the training, made a barrel, said 'well, fuck this' to no one in particular and only then did I get to wander around a city, stalking people. If I wanted to work this much in a game to get to the good parts I would play an MMO.

(rimshot)

When the game finally stopped getting in its own way (and I stopped caring about hitting all of the sub-goals) I had a lot of fun. There was a side mission last night that had everything I was looking for when I started: sneaking, killing, then running away. This time the fort was under attack by my own ship and on fire, which made it all the better. In the back of my mind I know that all the nonsense is still out there and that I will need to go back to it. I will need to play the accounting mini-game to earn enough  money to upgrade my ship to get through the ship to ship combat mini-games to get all of the other side quests to do... what?

Yahtzee was right, what I want to do (kill people) Conner is already good at and he isn't going to get any better. If all the ancillary bits were enjoyable, see Red Dead Revolver, this wouldn't be a problem. But they aren't, and the game is more work than fun because of this. At this rate Assassins Creed IV will come with a copy of Office 2013.

...which is back to be awesome, by the way.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Demo Friday: No Moving Allowed

Another record for Demo Friday: I downloaded, played, and was then finished with the lone XBLA release in under fifteen minutes.

No, that's not the death star. Though with the recent acquisition by Disney, it could be.


Planets Under Attack is so far outside my usual fair that I almost didn't play it all. It's a strategy game, which I don't play because I am not very bright. It is also real time, which I don't play because what little brains I have refuse to work more than one thing at a time. If I cannot throw reaction time at a problem to make it go away I quickly get frustrated.

The previous paragraph is only a slight exaggeration. For further proof review my experience with King's Bounty: Armored Princess.

So it is a real time strategy game masquerading as some kind of inter-stellar business simulator. Take away all of the stiff upper lip British humor (wot wot) and you send ships from one planet to another to take them over. Once you have all the planets you win. There is more to it, or course: you can upgrade planets, there are giant space guns to occupy and turn on you opponents, you have to earn money by taxing the planets you conquer, there are bonuses or 'techs' that you can equip upon gaining experience. The trappings get complicated quickly but the core of it, sending ships from one planet to another, stays the same. It is actually easy to accomplish but flawed in a way that I found annoying and I didn't even make it through the tutorial.

Step 1: choose the planet you want to attack.

Step 2: choose how many ships you want to send

Step 3: ?

Step 4: Profit!

The problem is that you cannot designate which planet your dispatched ships come from and what portion each planet will send. It is possible to exempt a planet from sending any ships at all but this does not fix the problem. Ships leave each planet at the same time but arrive at the target in waves because they all travel at the same speed. I wanted to consolidate my forces on one planet and then send them all at once. A Zerg rush, to coin an apt phrase. I could not because there was no way (that I could find) to move ships from one of my planets to another. The majority of my forces were stuck on my home planet, far from the areas of conflict.

I don't even have a passing familiarity with real time strategy games and this annoyed the shit out of me because I could not do what I wanted to do and there was no reason or explanation for it. Unlike King's Bounty: Armored Princess, which I stopped played because the tutorial itself defeated me, Planets Under Attack was shut off because I was bored and frustrated. I will say that it actually made me want to give the new X-Com game a try. Briefly. Then I came to my senses and remembered that I have enough stress in my life.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Waiting. Waiting.

Assassins Creed III is trying to be all things to all people.

It makes the assumption that the player is new to the series by forcing them through a tutorial that rivals Final Fantasy XIII in length. Don't get me wrong, I like Haytham. He sounds and acts like a colonial Bond, complete with attracting random females who fall in love with him quickly and for no reason. I would have liked Haytham more if I got to take him on an actual assassination mission instead of a series of 'this is how things are going to work in six hours when you get to the actual game' hand holding exercises. Connor finally showing up does not improve things because the game decides to teach you how to hunt and trap animals. There is no getting around it: hunting and trapping animals is lame. I want to be hunting and trapping people. This is Assassins Creed, not Subsistence Hunting Simulator 3.

To great contrast, the story has been completely divorced from the game pay. If you have not played all of the previous game you will have fuck all idea about what is going on. There isn't even a snazzy intro sequence recapping the last game. Desmond and company find their way into a new cave, set up the Animus and off we go into the head of Haytham. I have played all of the previous games and I still would have liked a little more review, though it is pretty interesting that no one has mentioned the girl that Desomnd stabbed to death at the end of Revelations. His father will hit him with that later. And then punch him. For being a whiny bitch.

Series loyalists (and apologists, of whom I have been one) are annoyed because the meat of the game is walled off. I have a very particular way of entering a new city: find all of the vantage points, do all of the sub-missions, then advance the story. Assassins Creed 3 has yet to let me do that because everything is scripted and narrow. New players are frustrated because, while they are being taught how to play the game, no one has explained who the hell the Templars and Assassins are. Neither word is even uttered for the first three hours, most likely to build up Haytham's Templar reveal.

That's right, I spoiled it.

I had already figured out that Haytham was Conner's father but him being a Templar surprised me because it didn't make any sense. He was using the hidden blade and had all of the same abilities as Ezio and Altair. I assumed that the Assassin dress code had been relaxed. This gotcha moment is only a surprise to the (annoyed) series vets so they had to make Desmond react to it with a comical 'wait, what?' and record scratch sound effect to prove to the noobs that that had just had a fast one pulled on them.

All of these complaints will go away as soon as I get the the actual game. After six or so hours, I am wondering how long that is going to take.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Perhaps I was a little too mean

Obnoxiously busy at work, no time to post. Even now I am watching a progress bar on a terribly slow download of an updated pieces of software that I have to shoehorn on to an ancient XP machine. I spend half my life watching things upload, download, install, restore, unzip, etc. If only my office was casual enough to allow a little hand held gaming action during my down time. No dice, but they have yet to ask for a web proxy to block errant traffic, so I should count my blessings.

...

One of my favorite things about the first Darksiders was how gleefully it stole from other games, regardless of what genre they inhabited. Darksiders II does this as well, but it steals most of the same things. Cribbing itself is not as interesting. The only new bit of 'adapted' technology is the level that incorporates moving backwards and forwards through time in the same level, but almost no one played Singularity anyway, which is itself a crime. Less Frankenstein's Monster and more bride of Frankenstein, Darksiders II feels uncomfortably familiar even though almost none of it takes place on Earth, and when it does get there it changes from hack and slash to over the shoulder shooter and you want to leave as quickly as possible.

I will take back my previous jibe at THQ about their stock price because I really do want to see a third Darksiders. The world they have built is ripe for further exploitation: there are two horsemen left, the interactions between demons and angels is non-traditional, other races and worlds are teased at. The ending points directly at a cooperative multi-player entry that rips off Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising (which I would play wrong all by myself but still enjoy). Darksiders II did not hit its sales numbers and THQ is in serious trouble. It looks like Death will have one more thing in common with Raziel: his series will never get the send off that it deserves.

...

Assassins Creed III has been insulting my intelligence for two straight days. I don't know how much of this abuse I will take before moving on to other things (I really want to play Doom...).


Friday, November 9, 2012

Demo Friday: leave well enough alone already

XBLA continues its trend of slim offerings that start a few weeks ago with one new game and another title in the Sega Vintage collection. I have decided to exempt the Toejam and Earl collection the same scrutiny that is leveled at new games. Having never owned a Genesis I lack the rose colored glasses of reminiscence required to actual enjoy a 16 bit re-release. Also, I had no idea what the hell was going on and could only take about two minutes of the games soundtrack before shutting it off. The demo I am going to talk about is Karateka, a remake on an even older game.


That's the whole game. This is the remake:


The first time I saw screen shots of Karateka I thought it was a follow up to Mark of Kri, an excellent game that no one played. Mark of Kri was an excellent brawler that featured absolutely brutal stealth attacks and open, though still linear levels. More of that is never a bad thing. Surely, I thought, the new Karateka would just use the name and the very basic story of the original as a framework for a new martial arts brawler. Nope, it is almost exactly the same as the original that came out in 1984. It has aged just as well you would imagine.

Old Karateka was a side scrolling fighter in which you walk up to vaguely oriental looking dudes and punch and/or kick them until one of you falls down. There is princess involved who will either embrace you when she is rescued or kick in the sac for you trouble (this is not a joke). The new Karateka is a side scrolling fighter in which you walk from left to right, punching and kicking dudes until they fall down. Oh, and there is a block button this time.

Karateka is like colorizing Casablanca. Yes, it is a thing that happened, but there is no good reason it should have and if you enjoy it then you should feel bad for doing so. One of Mechner's games has already received a stellar reboot (and a reboot of the reboot which was not so stellar). Instead of applying new technology to old idea as was done to Prince of Persia this game applies new paint to old ideas. It's insulting to the original, archaic compared to its peers, and worst of all just no fun to play.
  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Such a sour taste

After around five evenings with Darksiders 2 I have finally found something that I take issue with. There a few things here and there that could certainly be better. The rate at which good loot drops should be increased. Your horse runs much too slowly, etc. These are things that I can get past because they are trivial or they are a fault with most games that feature random loot drops. The Soul Arbiter's Maze, though, cannot and should not be forgiven.

For starters it really isn't a maze. Death is dropped into enclosed rooms with four possible exits, the catch being that he has to kill everything in the room first and that there are not clues inside of the 'maze' on which way to go. Yes, there are hidden clues outside of the maze as to where the exists and treasure chests are, but once you start it you cannot leave until you die. This leads to cheating, in other words, the internet, because it is not much fun. Enemies come in waves, sometimes in unusual combinations and other times just in huge numbers, and if you make a wrong turn and have to start over they all respawn. This leads to the second, more egregious problem: there is nothing to gain by killing the monsters.

Death gains no XP for enemies killed in the maze and on top of that they drop no loot. There is no reason to kill them other than to open the doors to advance to the next room and do it all again, and it could take quite a while if you are a person with any integrity and don't have your laptop open next to you with the correct path displayed (guilty, as charged). As I  pushed down through the levels I came across enemies that I had not seen anywhere else, enemies that should have generated boatloads of experience and at the very least a large pile of money. But they didn't because they were in the maze.

I would like to have seen the design document for this thankfully optional area: maze that you cannot find your way through without items found outside of the maze in which you are forced to fight enemies in increasing number and difficulty without the two things that make killing things fun: character advancement and better equipment. It was probably scrawled on the bottom of the same memo about there being extra space on the disc to fill after all the on disc DLC was squirreled away.

Hey THQ, how's your stock doing?

I kid. Sort of. At least I hope that someone buys Metro: Last Light from them before they go under the rest of the way.

I try be non-partisan...

...because I don't vote, because my personal platform in un-electable and I refuse to accept 'close enough'. And I certainly don't want to turn my blog in which I talk in a stream of consciousness manner about video games into anything with a political bend to it. But this:



Is goddamn hilarious.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I may think it is better than it is

All of the jokes you have heard regarding Darksiders 2 are correct. For some reason every quest comes with three sub quests, all of which are to collect three magic maguffins. The loot system butts right up to Borderlands 2 in terms of its ratio of usable stuff to shit you are going to sell. It takes itself far to seriously for a game that stars Death on his quest to save his brother War. To me, none of this matters, because from the moment I start a session to the moment I stop I am having fun. I don't care if the optional dungeon I just completed was pointless, I had fun navigating it. I had fun with its puzzles and the combat. It also doesn't hurt that one version of Death's armor makes him look just like Raziel.


Raziel was a bit of a whiner, though, and Death is not. To put a crude point on it, Death gives zero fucks. Not a one. Giant monster thing is in his way? Kill it. There was an easier way to walk around? Doesn't matter, kill it anyway. When death is what you do there is no reason to do anything else.

I will admit to having retreated to GameFaqs on a few occasions because it is difficult to tell that I can't accomplish something because I haven't figured out the right way to do it or because I haven't gotten the correct ability yet. Many of the optional bosses are the same way: there is no way to know if you are ready to tackle them aside from getting one hit killed. I spent around half an hour on a boss that would crush me in two hits if I made a mistake. It had to be a perfect run, and I did it, only to have him drop a level 20 weapon.

I was level 14, so the exercise was fruitless beyond keeping death in character. Side, and quite hypocritical, note: why did I put up with this when I turned off Demons' Souls after thirty minutes? Answer: because I knew I could walk away and do something else. The whole game wasn't absurdly difficult, only the part that I was intentionally subjecting myself to.

The Christmas crush is coming which means that even a game as enjoyable as Darksiders 2 begins to feel too long. For the second time in as many months GameFly shipped a new release on release day: I have Assassins Creed 3 sitting at home waiting to be played right next to Doom 3: slightly prettier but still too dark to see. And of course now is when I decide to get back into fighting games.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ah, how I missed the balls

I am going to do something that I have not done in a long time: talk about Street Fighter in positive terms.

My last encounter with AE saw my old Madcatz SE wrapped around a post in my basement. Honestly, it was not a big loss. Even the I had replaced the buttons it was still severely worn. There was a dead zone, down back if you must know, that was so huge it made playing command characters almost impossible. At least that was the excuse that I used. I was without a stick for a few months until I pulled together the money for my Qanba. It is was worth every penny and was the only thing that made playing Persona 4 Arena even close to possible.

The anime affair didn't last very long but I have since fallen back in love with Tekken. I have not given up on that, not yet, but the call of AE was strong. I am comfortable with it in a way that I have never reached with any other fighting game. This does not mean that I am any good, but it means that there aren't many surprises left. I know what my character can do. I know most of what all the other characters can do because I watch most of the streamed majors and have fought them all many, many times. Again, I am in no way professing ability, only familiarity.

On Friday night I re-installed AE. Out of an abundance of caution I went into into training mode to make sure that I remember how to cancel crouching medium into a forward roll. It was a good thing, too, because I didn't. Charge times in Persona 4 Arena were shorter than in AE. My timing had be re-calibrated and it took longer than I thought. Once my hands remembered that Blanka is not Mitsuru things quickly improved. My links were right where I left them: shoddy. I should have spent more time on them but I wanted to actually play.

Expectations were managed. Heavy objects, with the exception of the stick were out of arms reach. Here's the surprise: I won. I won the first several in a row. Then I lost a few. Then I ran into a high ranked T. Hawk player. A true test: the T. Hawk - Blanka match up is 7-3 in Blanka's favor. It is similar to the Zangief match up (hit once, run away, punish when you can) with the following exception: Hawk has a very difficult time punishing blocked balls. I played it just right: lame. So lame. It was a huge confidence booster.

Yesterday I came across on Rufus who did not know how to space his dive kicks. Free anti-airs for me. I could literally hear him cursing my name because he didn't know what to do. It was wonderful.

I hope this lasts. It is good to be back.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Demo Friday: early leftovers

It must be the pre-Christmas lull for XBLA. Or they are holding back the good downloadable games for fear of being buried under the retail releases. I can't imagine anyone wants to butt heads with Assassins Creed 3 and Halo 4 so this week's releases are games that could come out just about any time because no one was going to buy them anyway.

Heh. Balls.
Just about every sport I can think of has made the transition from the real world to simulation. Some make the transition very well because the average human being simply cannot participate in the real sport at a reasonable level (football), others work because the developer pulled a good game out of nowhere that happens to be based on a sport that everyone knows how to do but no one is actually good at (ping pong), still other don't work because no one knows what the real game actually is (lacrosse?). Billiards fits right in with ping pong: anyone can pick up a stick and start knocking balls around the table but no one is ever as good at it as they think they are.

Take away the requirements of coordination  and skill and all that is left of billiards is geometry. Playing a video game simulation of it does exactly that: turns a game into math homework. Pool Nation is boring. It doesn't matter that the game is damn near photo realistic and the ball physics are spot on. Aligning arrows and manually setting where to the hit ball to create the spin you want is akin to navigating menus in an RPG: if you didn't have to do it there is no way you would. I don't have to play Pool Nation so I am not going to.

There is a story here that I wish I was privy to.
The demo of Pid would have been better if it hat put what you are doing in any sort of context. As it stands you start on what I assume is the first level: what looks like a child falls into a hole, there is some monster having tea below, queue indie style platforming with middling controls and 'I Wanna Be the Guy' style learn by death. There is nothing wrong with that. It certainly isn't my thing, I prefer my platformers to be more Rayman and less N++, but it was the lack of context that kept me from even finishing the demo.

Ok, the mushy controls certainly didn't do it any favors.

It would have been nice to know why the child fell into the hole and what the deal was with the monster having tea. I would assume that this is explained via an opening cut scene in the full game. Thirty seconds of exposition is all I would have needed. I know this was not done to keep the size of the demo down because XBLA demos contain the data for the whole game and only require an unlock to access the rest. This was an intentional choice that the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of creating mystery in fostered my ambivalence. Honestly, even with a full understand of what was going on I wouldn't have bought the game. Puzzle based platformers are really not my thing. Still, it would have been nice to know what I am not buying.

And what the hell 'Pid' is.