Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Too much bacon

I didn't play anything last night. After climbing I watched a wonderfully depressing documentary on the Chernobyl meltdown. Informative and soul crushing, just like a BBC production should be. Speaking of soul crushing:



Oh shit. I was already down for the sequel but this is looking better all the time. Amnesia was terrifying for most of it and unsettling for the rest. 'A machine for pigs' sounds like the subtitle of a PETA video. This new trailer makes it quite clear that pigs are not the only thing being fed to this machine, whatever it may be.



It's a wonder that there hasn't been a Soylent Green game yet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If it's the same how can it be worse?

I do not understand why Medal of Honor Warfighter exists. The modern military shooter space is very crowded, both by innumerable second and third tier titles and two giants: Call of Duty Whatever and Battlefield The Next One. A game is going to need to do something pretty amazing or outlandish to get noticed, and by get noticed I mean get people to buy it instead of waiting for the next iteration of the bug two while playing the old one to death. So what does Warfighter do? It goes out of its way to be exactly like Call of Duty Black Ops, hoping for accidental sales to people who either don't know how to read or just buy games featuring angry looking men wielding guns on the cover, assuming it is the one they are looking for.

With that bit of snark out of the way, there is nothing wrong with Warfighter. It is a shooter in which you shoot things, occasionally drive things (these parts are not very good) then go back to shooting things, sometimes from a turret. It is the same formula that has been abused for years by better and better technology. Warfigher runs on the same engine that the last Battlefield did and puts it to very good use in combat. Some of the characters faces are a bit off in the cut scenes; to be less delicate, the main character's wife looks like she too an unfortunate tumble down the uncanny valley. It was distracting but no deal breaker.

So if there is nothing wrong with Warfighter why have both the public and private opinion been so negative? I have read several, some better written than others, and the majority of them come do to Warfighter being bad because it is not Call of Duty or Battlefield. The IGN review cites technical issues that I did not see. Gametrailers complained that it was too linear. GameInformer and Giant Bomb said it was nothing new. Here's the problem: if it is nothing new then isn't it at least as good as the game it is copying? I don't recall Call of Duty: The Last One getting anything under a 9 out of 10 from anyone. The two big games have become the standard for military shooters and have someone become exempt for the qualities that are supposed to represent.

As usual these opinions are based entirely on the single  player portion of the the game. For all I know playing Call of Duty with other people is the equivalent of gaming heaven and Warfighter is rolling a giant rock up a hill only to have it crush you on the way back down. Honestly, I don't care. There is nothing wrong with Warfighter that isn't wrong with all the other games it tries very hard to look like. The only difference between then are their marketing and "marketing" budgets.

You know exactly what I mean.

Monday, October 29, 2012

But it sounds better on a turn table

It occurs to me that I did not talk enough about how good Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was and why. My reasons will be a nice counterpoint to my problem with The Unfinished Swan. Just to get this out of the way, and call me a philistine if you must, I enjoyed Fall of Cybertron much, much more than Swan. This is not me talking through the rose colored glasses of childhood lost. This is grown up me, aging and cynical, saying that it was a damn good game and I am not embarrassed to admit my affection for it. It was effective for precisely the opposite reason Swan was ineffectual: the story.

Story, in a Transformers game? Again, I am not kidding. Full synopsis: Cybetron is going dormant in no small part to the ongoing civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The Autobots are trying to leave and Decepticons are trying to kill them before they can escape. That's it. Granted, there are little side events (Megatron being destroyed/rebuilt, the creation of the Dinobots), but the main arc is that simple, which is exactly why it works. It's simple. The bad guys are bad, wonderfully, comically, thoroughly bad. The good guys are so noble it makes me ill. It is a simple game with a simple story and it is just as if not more engaging that complicated games with convoluted stories to tell.

Perhaps simple is the wrong word. It is focused and it fits the action well. This is where Swan failed: it's story wandered between two characters and felt disconnected from what I was actually doing. If only Megatron showed up and killed the swan, then told the child to stop being such a bitch and channel his inner rage into world crushing destructive power. So yes, I think Fall of Cybertron was a better game than Fall of Cybertron.

Just to stave off any hipster style mocking, Flower is better than both of them, as are Everyday Shooter and Ico. Flow and Journey, not quite, but still pretty good. Indy enough for you now?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stop looking at me, swan

I just finished The Unfinished Swan and I want to talk about it, but I want to talk about it in a positive way. That will require some distance and time that I do not have; as of right now it is solidly in the 'meh' category, a place that a two hour niche title cannot afford to be. For what it's worth I can tell that this game is a piece of work that someone is very proud of. It is focused and polished and honestly just as long as it needs to be. What it is missing is the emotional kick that makes other games like it so memorable. Without the gut check of Limbo, the exhilaration of  Journey or even the patronizing bombast of Braid all that is left is a game with one interesting idea that is abandoned after the first level.

Videos of The Unfinished Swan have all focused on the beginning: you are in a solid white area and the only way to see where you are going is to flick paint around. It splashes on objects in a realistic manner, giving you the feedback needed to spend slightly less time walking into walls. The very first section is a prime example of letting the player figure things out on his her her own: I was dumped into a solid white room with nothing but a targeting cursor to keep me company. No button explanation. No glowing arrow making the way to proceed obvious. I am embarrassed to say how long I waited for the hand holding to begin. It never did and I survived anyway, without even an AI companion named 'follow' to help.

Splashing paint around is fun in and of itself; using it to solve puzzles is better. They were times that all I could see where swan footprints in the distance. I would walk forward into a wall and have to follow a trail of black splotches to a new path. This kind of organic, sensible discovery is a lot of fun and it kept my interest while I endured some very forced children's book narration. A orphaned boy travels through an unfinished painting left to him by his mother, exploring a world of ink created by a very unstable king who may or may not be the child's father (who the mother left before he was born). The story is easily the weakest part of the experience. When the rest of it starts to flag the results are not good.

Before the first area is finished the fields of white are gone, replaced by very simple puzzles that I have seen many times before. There were jumping puzzles out of Portal, an area where I had to stay by the light or be eaten by spiders from a dozen other games, and finally a timed section where rising water forced me to climb faster than was comfortable. Nothing new, nothing inspiring, and nothing left to distract from the overly complex plot. Journey and Flower, Swan's closet peers, worked because the story was just as simple as the game's mechanics. Swan tries to cram too much into a small package, leaving no space for what people came to see. I wanted a few hours of an interactive painting. What I got was about fifteen minutes of that followed by the leftovers of an adult therapy session produced by a broken home.

I want to be positive because little games like this should exist. Complete games that I can experience in one sitting don't come around often enough and it pains me to say that I cannot recommend this one. The Unfinished Swan wastes the good idea it had and places far too much time and effort into explaining what would be better left alone. The whole game needs to take a lesson from its own first level: sometimes it is best to let the player make his or her own discoveries and decisions. I didn't need over wrought tutorials to explain how to play the game and I certainly didn't need over wrought explanations on what the game was about and how I should feel while playing it. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Demo Friday: Too many suffixes

One game, and it's a re-release? Come on.

There is not enough happening on the screen. Add more meters!
I bought the first Guilty Gear on the PS1 way back in 1998 without knowing what is was. 2D fighting game was good enough. Of course this was back when I spent all my time playing against the computer and never ever played against another person, which means that I thought I knew what I was doing but really had no idea. I remember being struck by how fluid the animation of the characters was but it was so not Street Fighter that my interest did not last for long. Arc System Works games have their own unique feel and I was not ready for it. Flash forward many years and I am still not ready for it.

Persona 4 Arena reintroduced me to their style and it was quite fun while it lasted. It also didn't have the legs with me that Street Fighter or more recently Tekken managed but that certainly does not mean that I don't think highly of it. I just need to really be enamored with a game to be willingly terrible at it for any length of time.

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core (I think I got that right) is in the same vein as Capcom's 3rd Strike Online: quality port of an older game with exceptional netcode. At least, that it what I have been told. The demo locks out online play, so even if I wanted to get my shit pushed in by people who know exactly what they are doing I can't. It is either protecting me from unspeakable abuse or knows that people who want to play the game will just buy it. It even locked out practice mode, so all I could do was run through about five fights in arcade mode and draw my conclusions from there. It was not enough for me to decide if I actually like how the game felt or not. It feels deeper than P4A but that may just be because I have no idea what all of the gauges on the screen mean. Tension? Burst? I have no idea. The demo did not give me enough information to make a decision so the game gets a pass because I am already flush with its modern equivalents. The demo would have been better with limited online play, say to two different characters, and an open practice room.

Being a re-release of an already niche title, though, means having a guaranteed audience and that attracting new players is just not a priority. So, works as intended, not going to fix.

...

Regardless, I love I-no.





Thursday, October 25, 2012

Get your touch controls out of my wallet!

I know that I was pretty high on Extraction actually working as a touch based top down shooter phone game. The mechanics are definitely sound. My concern was with the built in micro-transaction for weapon upgrade points which was as not subtle as possible. The first time I clicked on an upgrade that I could not afford there was a pop up: you don't have enough points, would you like to buy some? I resisted, assuming that I would earn enough just by playing the game to have success and that being able to spend real money was just a shortcut.

Last night on one of two flights I found out that I was wrong. Difficulty ramped up so quickly that the only way to succeed would have been to break out the credit card and buy better guns. What was even more devious was how long this took to happen. It wasn't a level or two. No, I was allowed to get into the game, become proficient with it, and only then did the money making scheme kick in. I can't blame them, charging 99 cents for a game on a platform as small as Windows Phone is not going to make a lot of money, but that doesn't mean that I am going to cave in to their monetary needs. I have gotten 99 cents worth of fun out of it and I am not going to spend any more.

...

My trip to Texas was nothing more than two flights there, sleep in the hotel, one long meeting, then back on to two flights to get home in time to go to sleep. The office that I visited was remarkable casual; shorts and shirts were the norm with only the truly important people donned in slacks and shirts with collars. There was also a break area, complete with a few couches, a decent sized television and an Xbox 360. Cool, I thought, but then someone mentioned that it was only used over the summer by employee's kids when child care was an issue.

What an incredible waste. In my mind I am picturing playing Street Fighter money matches over lunch but in reality that poor system saw nothing more than Dance Central and Star Wars Kinect. It looked at me, simultaneously ignored and abused, and begged for rescue. I felt its pain but there was nothing I could do. They were not hiring, and even if they were I am not moving to Texas.

Ever.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Change into what, exactly?

Looking back at previous entries, it would appear that I did not like the previous High Moon Studio produced Transformer games as much as I remember liking them. Proof of my impending dementia, I suppose. This issue with past games makes me saying that Fall of Cybertron is the best Transformers game to date mean less, but I am going to say it anyway. First of all it treats its license with respect, which is saying a lot for a license about giant robots that transform into other things. From what I can tell voice actors are consistent with the past games. Optimus looks like Optimus, etc. Care was taken to make this look and sound right. But how does it feel?

That is the second thing that Fall of Cybertron got right: it is a good shooter aside from its license. The way characters move is closer to Gears of War than Uncharted. This makes sense because they are hulking robots from another planet and not a smarmy Indiana Jones clone in need of a comeuppance. The Gears of War comparison ends quickly because there is no cover system. Cover system for Transformers? Bah, I said, and then got shot to pieces because none of the characters can take thank much damage. While there is no 'press a button to stick to the closest chest high wall' system there is an organic cover system. This is just a fancy way of saying you hide behind walls to not get killed. Simple but necessary. The one concession given is a big one: you can switch which hand is holding a weapon allowing you to peak out from either side of cover. It works, and I suppose that is enough.

Unfortunately that all I have right now. Just got off my second flight of the day and my back is killing me, not to mention is bizarre pseudo migraine that hit as the plane was descending. It felt like someone was in my head stabbing the back of my eye with an ice pick. Then they got bored with that and moved to other, more sensitive areas of the inside of my skull. If I don't post tomorrow remember me fondly as I have probably expired from a brain aneurysm.

Monday, October 22, 2012

He mooned us all

Embarrassing gamer confession time: I never finished the first Serious Sam. I made it all the way to the final boss and, well, you will see why:


Actually, that looks fairly tame compared to what I made it through last night.

 

Only I didn't find the jet pack right away and spent far too long killing other things instead of flying around, jamming lightning rods into the giant monster's back. It took my around an hour to figure out everything and make a serious run at him and when I nearly missed the last few cannon ball shots I couldn't help but mutter 'are you serious?' to myself.

Why yes, he is.

It may have been around a year late, but I got to play Serious Sam 3. I will give it the greatest praise I know: the game made me happy. No big words. No biting criticism or forced alliteration. Not even a turn of phrase to fill out a paragraph. Serious Sam 3 brought a smile to my face. It reminded me of much simpler times, before squad based everything and persistent multiplayer worlds. No leveling, no RPG mechanics, no open ended exploration. There is no sandbox; the box is a hallway and there are things running down it at you.

In other words, it is perfect.

...

Going to be in airports and hotels for two days this week. This will be an excellent test for Extraction. Is the game actually any good or it just more tolerable than everything else on the Windows Phone marketplace?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

No school like the old school

I am so happy that I got to play any version of Serious Sam 3, even happier that the console port was handled in an intelligent, *ahem* serious way. The game reached such a point of intensity last night that my hands were sweating, something that I do not remember any other game doing. It is a wonderful primal experience. Little story, no pretense, if it moves, shoot it. If it is still moving, shoot it with something bigger.

The old familiar trope of taking all your guns away was trotted out last night which I did not enjoy. Going back to whacking things with the sledgehammer was rather underwhelming, but I suppose that was the point. Sure, you can kill giant monsters from across the map with a sniper rifle that shoots explosive bullets. Can you do it with an assault rifle? Better yet, can you get in to point black range and do it with a shotgun?

Just like the first two games, first and second encounter (I did not play much of Serious Sam 2, it wasn't very good) the source of most of my frustrations are the skeletal kleer. Other enemies are content to charge straight at you or circle just out of range while firing rockets. The kleer do both, are faster than you even while sprinting, do ridiculous damage, and are just as bad peppered in with other enemies as they are flowing down a canyon by the hundreds, looking like a pointy avalanche. So many of my deaths came from one of these bastards I forgot about catching me from behind that I had to stop being conservative with my ammo and whip out the mini-gun every time I heard their hooves hit the ground.

I hate them. I hate them so much. Again, the game is accomplishing exactly what it set out to do. Sometimes you can tell that the developers honestly loved the game while they were working on it. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is one even  though I haven't talked about it. Other examples would be he first BioShock or this years Bastion. Croteam loves Sam. They love his world filled with Egyptian nonsense, his clear aping of Duke Nukem. They love the wide open levels with obvious spawn points. But the especially love that last cheap shot when you think you are done. One more enemy for when Sam is low on health an ammo, nearly guaranteed to kill you the first time around.

And I love it, too.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Demo Friday: I cheated and bought one

It's an odd Demo Friday. One of the game came out last week and I have been playing it on and off since then (because it is free) and one of this week's releases was purchased sight unseen. It must be getting close to Christmas.

Ok, now who has the toilet paper?
Please take a second to get over just how stupid the name 'Happy Wars' is. Yes, it's really, really bad. While you are getting past that work you way right on by the weeble wobble looking characters and otherwise simple graphics. What's left? Take away what the game looks like and what you do is very much like Unreal Tournament 3's conquest mode, just in a smaller area, minus the vehicles, plus different classes. Characters all start each match at level 1 and gain levels and abilities as the game progresses. A character's rank determines what equipment they can use, which means that a newb level 1 is still going to get murdered by a higher ranked player but it does keep the crazy magic and abilities off the table until they are needed.

Items are handed out for completing tasks and challenges instead of the standard enemy drops or hidden chests. They can be equipped and customized at the players leisure, adding a definite RPG element to the chaos. Keeping all the data server side makes prevents cheating, so you can be pretty sure that the 30 rank wizard that just toasted ten men from across the map put in his time and earned it. Either that or he opened up his wallet and bought it. Happy Wars is free but you can spend real money on in game money and tickets, then use the tickets to buy new weapons and armor or upgrade existing equipment. It is tempting but not required; playing for free is still fun.

Or it would be if I could connected to a game regularly.

Match making takes forever and is unsuccessful a solid 75% of the time. I do not understand why I could jump into and out of UT 2003 servers with custom maps and a hundred people playing but Happy Wars struggles to match up 30. Actually, I do understand: that awesome UT server was a dedicated box of godlike specifications and Happy Wars is probably hosted by whoever signed in first, regardless of the quality of their internet connection. Fix the match making and Happy Wars would be a very good low impact mulitplayer time waster. Right now it is a novelty and little else. And it looks too cute and has a terrible name.

You can make it through three paragraphs without a serious joke. Seriously, you can do it.
I should have played Serious Sam 3 eight months ago but my computer was not up to the task. A console release means that the game will actually run without melting the box doing the work. It may not look as good as it would have on a high end computer but the frame rate should stay somewhere north of 30. This console port is accurate to its PC cousin right down to including a frame rate meter. It does indeed stay above 30 most of time, though there is the occasional dip, usually at the worst possible time . Having seen better looking game run more smoothly I choose to blame the company that ported it and give Croteam a pass.

What they did get right was the translation of mouse and key board to thumb sticks. Serious Sam: The First Encounter on the oXbox was almost unplayable in my opinion because it made no concessions to the change in input. Translation: it was just as fast and hectic and you couldn't keep up with your thumbs. Serious Sam 3, I will admit, cheats. There is gracious auto-aim, should you choose to enable it, and if your cross hairs are anywhere close to the target bullets will connect. This does lead to shots that really should have missed hitting but it doesn't make the game any easier.

Sam is still out numbered several hundred to one and all the auto-aim in the world can't remove that challenge. Bosses are giant and unfair. Enemies types are mixed just right to keep you on your toes, though the death blow is almost always delivered by that one kleer who you forgot about. I will put Sam's enemies up against the monsters in Doom any day. Each has their own unique attacks and more importantly a unique sound. You know when there is a kleer or fifty hiding around the corner, waiting to kill you from behind after you circle strafe around it. There is an intensity here that is unmatched even by the scripted segments of big budget shooters because it is more straight forward. Sam walks into a field. Enemies appear and run at him.

I heard you missed me.


Shoot them or die.

Someone didn't want to wait in line.
Zombie Driver HD sounds pretty good on paper. Take a car, put guns on it, drive over zombies. Add in random quests and tadaa, a pretty good downloadable title. That would have worked, too, if someone hadn't had two really bad ideas between the board room and going gold. First, ammo should not be limited. There are a lot of zombies to kill. Running them over slows down the car significantly, but ammo is scarce to the point that I ended up saving it for only the densest hoards.

Secondly, the car should handle less like a real car and more they do in a twin stick shooter. Assault Heroes comes to mind: the vehicles behave in an almost realistic way but getting them to go where you want to go is never difficult. The cars in Zombie Driver actually behave like cars, up to and including a limited turning radius and having to actually use reverse to get out of corners. Many missions require you to kill a specific number of zombies. This is easy when they are in a group. When these are only one or two left, though, I ended up circling them in frustration because I couldn't turn sharp enough to hit it and I was out of bullets.

So close. A shame, too, because it is a good looking game. I think they might have actually tried to hard and gone for more realistic gusto than was needed. Sometimes you just want to squash zombies. Having to fight a taxi with rotten handling to do so kills all the fun.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I tried to save time and failed

After the tragedy that was Risen 2 sitting on the to be played shelf for about two weeks and then actually getting played for about an hour I decided that it was time to trim the fat from my queue. The year end push is coming and there will be no way to play all the good games, much less indulge in bad games. There was one problem, there is nothing to trim. Here is what is on tap for the rest of the year:

10/23 - Medal of Honor: Warfighter
10/23 - Forza: Horizon
10/30 - Assassins Creed 3
11/6 - Halo 4
11/13 - Call of Duty: Black Ops II
11/15 - LEGO Lord of the Rings
11/18 - Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
11/20 - Hitman Absolution
12/4 - Far Cry 3

What the hell is that? There's no bullshit in there, they all need to be played. I don't even know what is coming out on XBLA between now and the end of the year, but it isn't going to help. I just bought Serious Sam 3 yesterday and it is almost as good as I want it to be. The current releases that I haven't played yet will be difficult to trim as well:

Darksiders II
Resident Evil 6
Sleeping Dogs
Doom 3: BFG Edition
007 Legends

The only one of those that I could walk away from and not feel bad about would be 007 Legends, but bad shooters are much more tolerable than bad RPGs. I could probably knock it out in two days, anyway. Enjoy this bounty while you can. If the new consoles hit next year, and I think they will, there will be at least a year if not two of slim pickings. Titles will be dropped from the current gen for the next, then delayed because up-porting is not as easy as people hoped. The old generation will become a wasteland of licensed titles and generic shovel-ware. The end of a generation is a wonderful time: developers abilities have matured and they are able to wring every last bit out of machines that have been loyal for many years. The beginning is expensive and frustrating, full of empty promises and shoddy hardware. I've been through it six times and it was much easier when I was a child and had no understanding of things like 'money' and 'planned obsolescence.'

Now I need to find a way to afford both the new Microsoft and Sony offerings along with Windows 8 Pro Surface, whenever that comes out.

I will talk about Serious Sam 3 tomorrow, as it technically fits into Demo Friday even though I bought it sight unseen. I will also talk about Happy Wars, an excellent free game that I would love to play more of, if only its terrible match making would let me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I voluntarily walked the plank

I am usually not one to pass up the chance to bash a game, but Risen 2 was so awful that I feel bad that I cannot remove it from my achievements list. I can look past not giving me any sort of map or direction with quests. It is an misguided attempt to force the player to explore area and work for event he simplest quest. I can endure bad graphics and choppy frame rates. I can even find enjoyment in laughable character animations and bad voice actors spitting out even worse pirate accents. What I cannot get past is terrible combat. Mash X to swing sword. Hold in L to riposte, only that doesn't work against monsters who aren't wielding swords. There is no dodge button, no roll button, no way to avoid getting killed by dozens of hits to the shins from giant killer crabs.

One hour and five minutes was all I could take. As penance I am purchasing Serious Sam 3 for the second time, this time on a system that will actually be able to play it.

...

Damnit, I don't even want to put Risen 2 on my list of games I played this year. It was that bad.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

So cheap something must be wrong

After I left behind my Blackberry and upgraded to a Windows phone I have been constantly looking for something to do with it that is not work related. Using it as an MP3 player works quiet well as it syncs up with my Zune subscription and I can download just about any music for free. Until quite recently I had not found anything to play on it besides Fruit Ninja. The problem, and my problem with most touch screen phone games, is that your hand obscures a good chunk of what little visual real estate there is. There are a surprising number of shooters available and I tried most of them. Every one had me dragging my finger around the screen, hiding the ship that I was supposed to be controlling. Eventually I gave up, content to use my phone as a mobile connection to my Sky Drive and for taking terrible pictures.

I am not sure when Extraction came out. The demo first hit my radar about three weeks ago but the game may have come out  long before then. It is a top down shooter with a very basic character and weapon upgrade system designed to get you to spent more money buying points than the $0.99 entry fee. Thankfully the demo told me all that I needed to know: someone looked at the specific bonuses and limitations of the touch screen format and built a game from the ground up. Instead of dragging my finger around I simply touch the ground where I want my guy to go. To attack I paint targets with my finger. Need to move while attacking? No problem, touch somewhere else and move there and a reasonably slower rate. To break off an attack double tap. To use a grenade drag the grenade from your inventory to where you want it to go. The only iffy control is the melee attack: you have to rub back and forth on the enemy, but I have yet to use it.

The controls worked so surprisingly well that I thought I was missing something and didn't buy the game right away. The demo sat there in my tiny game list for weeks, mocking me for not spending a dollar and change after tax on a phone game that actually works. There is just not space in my gaming routine for a phone game. At least there wasn't, then I found out that I am going to be out of state for two days next week. Unlike when I drive places and pack up most of my earthly belongings I do not like the idea of sending my Xbox through the gauntlet of airport security. My phone has to come.

Sold. Now I just need to resist the micro-transactions and actually play the game.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Driving the point home

Having read different reports on the length of Dishonored I got the feeling that there were two very different games present. On one side the game would allow the player to make a bee line from the start of the level to the end with little exploration. On the other, each area is filled to the brim with places to find and bits of junk to collect, allowing fastidious (or OCD) players to spend much, much time in them. To put it in fewer words, this is a stealth game heavy on finding alternate paths to the goal but the player is allowed to play the game wrong. It is a game that encourages non-lethal options to resolve all conflicts but gives the player far more tools to kill people than to knock them out. And if the player takes advantage of the tools he is given and plays the game wrong the only reward is a (more) depressing ending.

I wonder if Dishonored was supposed to be a test of the player's restraint. The game does not hide the fact that killing lots and lots of people is not the best solution. The game gets more difficult, with more rats and plague infected weepers scattered around, and NPC's react more poorly to Corvo as his murders increase. Then it hands out abilities that make killing people and hiding the evidence deliciously easy. In my play through once I gained the skill that turns corpses to ashes it was over. I was shooting fools in the head from across the map when no one was looking, leaving behind nothing but their swords and unspent ammo. I failed their test; being shown something cool and then told not to use it does not sit well with me.

The latter levels do make the switch from discouraging the violent approach to actually punishing it, but by then the die was cast. There was even an area with infinitely spawning enemies and still I kept killing them. A plot twist that I will not go into because the game only came out last week cemented my Corvo's homicidal nature. Killing people had gotten me into this mess and by god killing more people will get me out.

Spoilers incoming!

At the end of Corvo's prison escape he is aided by a boatman who works for the loyalists. This is also the person who saves Corvo by giving him a smaller than needed dose of poison when the loyalists order his murder. This same boatman picks Corvo up and gives him a lift to the final area. He then chastises Corvo, says he is no better than the loyalists and that he is ashamed of the what he has become.

'Get off my boat. I don't approve of your methods, so I am going to let them know that you are comi-'

I shot him.

It was reflexive. There was no thought involved. My Corvo had been killing people without thought since the game began. I had been killing people since the game began. The boatman announcing my arrival was just one more betrayal, so I killed him, too. Dishonored had made its point: killing is easy. The more you kill, the easier it gets. It becomes the only solution.

This is not an endorsement of the game. I did not enjoy much of the second half; the stealth didn't work as well as I would have liked and the combat (which there was a lot of for me) was little more than counter enemy attack, one hit kill. I also think that the abilities should have been more balanced between killing/not killing to give me a better chance at passing the game's test. Still, there was a moment of shame when I killed the man who saved me twice. My quest for efficiency had turned Corvo into a monster and I was not proud of what I had done. I get the message, I just wish the messenger was better.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Demo Friday: something old, something older

There were two retro re-releases on Friday of last week, plus this weeks new arcade releases. This translated to about forty five minutes of torture assuaged by fifteen minutes of calming nostalgia. All that was missing were angry ex-girlfriends and heavy drinking and it would have been just like my high school reunion (which I didn't go to because I was not invited, but that is a story for another day).

What the hell is a 1 mare?
I never owned a Saturn. Like most people I didn't even know it had come out until I walked past a Babbages and saw a giant pile of them sitting, untouched, with the store manager softly weeping behind it. Even after release my contact with the system was limited to the demo kiosk at Blockbuster, and all that had in it was a random platformer whose name I can't remember. I think the main character was an ant, but it was so lame that the Virtual Boy kiosk actually got more use.

Nights was a game that I knew about but had never played. Screen shots did little to explain what exactly you did in the game. Soon enough the whole system went away and most people forgot about it, including me. This does not strike me as a huge gap in my gaming resume, but getting to play it, at least in part, did pique my curiosity. It was a painful trial and I still have no idea what I was doing. The screen shots show exactly what is happening, and it makes no sense. I am flying through a dream inspired, zero gravity world in which I am limited to two dimensional movement in a three dimensional area. There are glowing things to collect and there is a time limit, but the whole track is a loop. I think I need to go around twice. Once I died and turned into a pajama wearing kid who had to climb her way back to the top of a hill.

I do not understand, nor do I care to put the energy into understanding. Nights is a relic, but not a museum quality relic, the kind you find in an antique shop under old issues of National Geographic with a price tag that says 'make an offer.'

Speaking of things that seemed better at the time:

Where is Tails when you need him?
I was on bored with the Dreamcast from day one. It introduced me to online gaming, the beauty of playing games on a computer monitor via a VGA cable and, well, piracy. My favorite memories of the system are not of the big releases that everyone played but of little ones that no one else remembers. Record of Lodoss War was an excellent Diablo clone. Cannon Spike was a great whatever it was. Chu Chu Rocket is the same kind of genre-less awesome. I played Sonic Adventure 2 because everyone played Sonic Adventure 2 and I distinctly remember the Sonic levels being good and all the other ones being bad.

The demo is, to no ones surprise, just a Sonic level. The first level, I think. It plays the same, with controls that work well when moving fast and completely break down when negotiating platforms, and it looks about the same as I remember. What is interesting is how much my expectations have changed. since it came out in 2001. Effects that were pretty cool then, like Sonic hitting one car and it tumbling down into others on its way down a hill, are laughable now. Games age more quickly and more severely than any other media. I can pick up a book written hundred of years ago and it still reads the same. Movies that come out ten years ago may not have all the same nifty special effects but good acting is still good acting. Games are so technology driven that even a few years render them almost unplayable.

Did I just confess to being a graphics whore? Shit.

This is honestly the best screen shot I could find.
Ah, Naughty Bear, we have crossed paths before. Your retail release in 2010 set a new record for shortest amount of time in the Xbox before I put it back in the envelope and sent it away. For those who haven't played it, which I hope is everyone, Naughty Bear is a stealth game in which the naught bear (you) stalks and murders all of the other bears. He's a bit unpopular, you see, and violence is the only way he knows how to deal with things. Panic in Paradise is exactly the same gave as the first, only set on the beach instead of the woods.

Nothing in this game works. The narrator's attempt and being chipper and British is more annoying than anything else. Stealth is joke, as you can duck into bushes with a dozen bears behind you and they all give up. Combat without stealth doesn't work either, so game play boils down to sneaking up behind one bear, sticking him to a cactus or knocking his head off with a golf club, then running way from his angry friends. Some attempt was made to spice things up with an experience system and naughty bear customization, but nothing can save this mess.

These are the same people who made Wet, a great bad game. I can't wait for their community service sentences to be up so they can put out a game with the word 'fuck' in it again.

Finally, some violence I can endorse.
In the early days of XBLA I played a lot of Worms. For me it was the perfect combination of turn based and real time strategy and silly enough that I did not get too mad when I lost. The basic formula for Worms games, the good ones anyway, has not changed in a long, long time. Revolution does the right thing by not straying far. The only changes I could see were that not all surfaces were destructible and all of the new water weapons. I imagine that being able to drown opposing worms with a weapon when they foolishly hide out in a hole for too long is wonderful for the killer and infuriating for the kill-y. This is just how Worms should work. If I had time I would upgrade to the new version. It is just as fun as I remember it being.

Side note: this would an example of how a game can age well. With a bit of reconstructive surgery and a few new features. Hadoken throwing works will never get old.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Walking and playing?

I was a music major in college. I made fun of bigger colleges that had marching bands because who wants to walk around and play when there are perfectly good chairs waiting to be sat in.



I take it all back.

It just doesn't know

Dishonored is certainly, well, it's definitely, um, something?

Let's start with what it isn't It is not the best looking game in the world. It took me quite a while to decide if the look was intentional or if the standard Unreal Engine 3 issue of texture not loading was just taking longer that usual to sort itself out. Environments lack the crisp detail that I have come to expect in modern first person games. Character models are stiff and do not animate very well. This is especially apparent in their mouths and faces, which makes the (so far) mediocre voice acting all the more distracting. It simply does not look like a AAA title.

Because it isn't.

Arkane Studios does not have a huge list of games to their name. They helped with BioShock 2 and put out Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic on their own. The giant money engines that put out games that look like Call of Duty or, oddly enough, Skyrim, were just not present for this game and it is obvious. What it lacks is clarity it makes up for in design. Arkane knew that they couldn't afford to create the best looking game so they decided to make one that just look right instead of looking real.

Once I got over my initial 'hurf durf where are my hi-res textures' reaction and played the game it became readily apparent that the game looks exactly the way it is supposed to. Yes, the environments are a far cry from Crysis 2, but they convey a feeling of desperation and despair just fine. Dishonored is depressing to look at. Assuming that was the point, they nailed it.

It is difficult to play Dishonored for any length of time with comparing it to BioShock. There are right and left handed abilities that can be combined in most any way. Runes are found to buy new abilities and improve existing ones. Combat is better approached with guile or stealth than head on. Being sneaky seems to be where the game wants you to go, and this bring on an unfortunate comparison to Thief. In my case, Thief Deadly Shadows because that it the only one that I have played.

Deadly Shadows, if I remember correctly, had an on screen icon which indicated how much light was on your character. This could be used as an accurate way to determine if you were in fact hiding or if you ass was hanging out of the bush you were crouching in. Dishonored has nothing of the sort, forcing you to rely on which direction the guard is facing and where he is looking. At first. Then you unlock an upgrade for the dark sight skill which allows you to see them through walls and creates Metal Gear Solid style cone of sight visuals. The game realized that hiding was more difficult than it should be but the swung to far in the other direction to compensate.

This is not the only example of the swinging between hand holding and vicious abuse with nothing in between. There is an item that will show you exactly where objects hidden in a level are. Without it, good luck. The final target for a level is highlighted from almost the very beginning, making it easy to make a bee line to the end of the level and skip the side quests that have relatively little to offer aside. If you do chose to finish the side quests and acquire more upgrades you can become a killing machine but killing to many guards will net you an inferior ending. They were quite a few cooks in on the creation of Dishonored and they, for their good intentions, have thinned out what could have been a better broth.

These opinions are based off of only around three hours of play so I may very well change my mind several times before the game is done. I was trying to play it the same way I played Deadly Shadows: incapacitate the guards, stack them like cord wood in the entry hall, then start them on fire as a warning to everyone, but that wasn't working. Now I am caught somewhere between violent thief and incompetent assassin, trying not to kill people and then being overrun by fire breathing Irishmen for trying to poison their still.

I am not making that part up. Those bastards spit unblockable fire and were nigh immune to my puny sword thrusts. It was not a good time, so I didn't feel bad when I finally found said still and befouled it with putrid rat guts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Less is more

I just deleted about two paragraphs of bull shit. Nothing to talk about today. I did not start Dishonored because Amazing Spider-Man did not have the decency to end when it should have and I lack the ability to walk away from a game that I am almost done with. It doesn't help that I listened to George Carlin's final CD last night. His words 'there is just enough bull shit in the world, don't add any more' are still ringing in my ears.

If I was as clever or acerbic as he was I would say something pithy. Instead I will just shut up.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blinded by excitement

My excitement for Dishonored has left me with little else to talk about. I am concerned about some of the reports regarding the length of the game. It is a game that you get as much out of as you put in, meaning that you could either walk from one end of the level to other and discover nothing or you could explore every inch, uncovering useless but interesting tidbits about the world. My usual MO is the first; little time is wasted between the start of a game and getting to the end. To be blunt, I do not have time to fuck around. If a game catches me though, if I fall into its world and want to know all I can about it, many more hours can disappear than can be justified. Dishonored is not an open world game, as far as I understand, but the detail put into every environment warrants the same level of exploration.

This is heavy praise for a game I have yet to play.  For all I know the whole thing could fall apart for me and I will willingly play it 'the wrong way' like I have all the Hitman games. The progression is as follows: yeah, Hitman, I am going to be all stealthy and shit. Wow, this is hard, it is much easier to just kill everyone on the way to the target, kill him, them kill whoever is left on the way out. My patience is unfairly selective and the actual quality of the game has little input on what I spend time on.

...

The Amazing Spider-Man continues on just as it as been. I have finished the majority of the side quests and if I am going to be honest it was just the achievements. I suppose I could say that I was farming them for XP but the only moves left to unlock are useless outside of very specific situations. It really is shame that the game itself is a step back from Spider-Man 2 because it really does look good. Swinging through the city, while automatic, maintains a solid frame rate in spite of very large, detailed buildings. Larger bosses are equally smooth, including one giant worm that tunnels through buildings in its attempt to crush one little spider. I just cannot get past the elephant in the room. Every time I start to enjoy myself the comic book guy part of my brain pipes up.

'You know that this could have been so much better if...'

I really wish I could turn him off. Worst. Internal Monologue. Ever.

Monday, October 8, 2012

He doesn't swing that way

There is only one answer to the following question: of all the Spider-Man games of the current and past generations, which is the best?

Spider-Man 2, of course, but why? It was an open world super hero game, something that we have gotten quite a but of recently if you are willing to lump Prototype and Infamous in along with Hulk Ultimate Destruction, so it is certainly not unique. Graphically it was reasonable at the time. The combat was, frankly, boring and the random missions all boiled down to catching balloons released by incompetent children or saving the suicidal from themselves. The one thing that it got right was the one thing that it absolutely had to get right for it to be accepted as something Spider-Man: the swinging. Specifically, the feel of the swinging though the city. The player was responsible for maintaining momentum, for changing direction and not careening into buildings, for landing in the right place at the right time. There was a learning curve to it, but once it was overcome simply exploring the city without touching the ground was as much if not more fun than anything else the game had to offer.

Flash forward quite a few years, past two good Spider-Man movies, one bad one and one superfluous reboot, and a new company has taken a shot at free roaming web slinging. Beenox's previous takes on Spider-Man have all been pretty good for a company whose early efforts included Guitar Hero Smash Hits and the Bee Movie game. I am actually rather found of Shattered Dimensions and it steam punk Spidey. None of them had the swinging right, though, focusing instead of stealth or combat. Good action games, but not good Spider-Man games. The Amazing Spider-Man is finally a direct follow up to Spider-Man 2. It goes without saying that it looks better. The side missions are slightly more interesting. The combat steals most of the good parts of Arkham Asylum. None of that matter, of course, unless the swinging is fun.

So is it? In a word, no. The entire process is far to automatic. Hold in the right trigger to swing. If you want to gain altitude hold in the left trigger as well. To aim at and reach a specific place start web rush mode which stops time for a while and point where you want to go. It works but it isn't any fun because the player is never in control. Beenox either couldn't replicate when Activision did in 2004 or they thought expecting the player to maintain their own momentum while not running into things was just too much to ask. Either way, we lose. All the ancillary parts have been improved but what really matter was left behind.

Imagine Arkham Asylum or Arkham City without Batman's hook shot or the batarang. It just wouldn't be the same. I don't care about the Amazing Spider-Man movie reboot because I have little invested in the character or his boring rogues gallery. What I would like is for someone to make a game about him as good as one I played eight years ago. I wonder if Beenox has even played it.

...

Dishonored shipped from GameFly on Saturday. The game doesn't even come out until Tuesday. I am confused. And excited.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Demo Friday: the worst cameo ever

My initial worry about playing XBLA demos every Thursday night was that I was going to stumble across more games that I needed to buy. That almost happen last week with Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit. The opposite possibility had never occurred to me: that I would run into three demos so bad that I would not be able to play them for the requisite five minutes required to come to an ill informed opinion. I went 0 for 3 last night with one game that wasn't for me, one game that was for me when I was in middle school and one game that isn't for anyone, ever.

Isn't this a level from the first Crash Bandicoot?
Joe Danger 2: The Movie is an exercise in reaction time and memorization. But Chamberlain, the voices in my head say, all game are exercises in reaction time and memorization. You just started Tekken again and you suck because you have forgotten how to play and your old man reflexes are no longer up to the task! Hush now, have another beer, I say to the voices, that may be true, but that is all Joe Danger 2 is. Honestly, it is visually busy and annoying as well, so yay?

Clearly I am not the intended audience for this game. If I wanted to play a game about scripted sequences and trial and error solutions I would dig up Stuntman: Ignition again. That game worked because it looked cool and you were driving a car. In Joe Danger you are controlling Joe wearing a jet pack or on a bike and it looks decidedly not cool. It is simple to the point of boring and I could not be bothered to play through the entire demo. This game was better when it was called Happy Wheels and it was free to play on the internet. Filling it with hilarious ways to die certainly doesn't hurt.

I could totally go for a sno-cone. Do you think he has any?
The high school I went to had a mall directly across the street. Inside that mall was an arcade of reasonable size. Now you know where I went after school every day and where all of my lunch money went. In that arcade was an original Double Dragon machine that was, for some reason or another, set on free play. Anyone could walk up, hit start as many times as they wanted, and brute force their way through to the end of the game. No one every played it through more than once. The challenge was gone, so the fun was gone, and we were all tired of Double Dragon.

Flash forward an indeterminate number of years and Double Dragon is back. Here's the good news: it is Double Dragon with better graphics, a few new moves and the same punishing difficulty. Here's the bad news: it is Double Dragon with better graphics, a few new moves, the same punishing difficulty and no free play option. Times have changed, I have have less time and would like very much to see all of any game I purchase. Usually this means playing it on medium. Sometimes it means playing it on easy when I tire of the game and just want to see the credits roll. Most games are nice enough to give me this option and I could not find that in the demo of Double Dragon Neon. So I died. In the demo that is supposed to sell me on the game I ran out of lives.

I have never been a fan of difficulty for its own sake. Nostalgia doesn't help, ether, because my only memories of Double Dragon are being bored with it. Neon is the second pass of the night.

More of my man face is all that awaits you.
When was the last time anyone enjoyed a point and click adventure game? Hold on, I need to put one qualifier on the: when was the last time that anyone enjoyed a point and click adventure game by anyone other than Tell Tale? No one? That's what I thought. Just being a point and click adventure game on a console is one huge strike against Red Johnson Chronicles, but I have to be honest, I never even got to the pointing and clicking part. I shut off the game before the exposition was over.

Red Johnson is a private detective in some alternate reality city. OK, I am with you so far. He just shot a guy in the head for saying that he would rather die than go back to prison. Questionable, but we're building character here, so I accept. Now he is in a bar and the waitress sounds like Tracer Tong's goons from Deus Ex and, wait a minute, what the hell is huggy bear doing here?


There may have been a good game hiding under the bad voice acting, bad writing and below average graphics, but after all of that, should I care? This game is a sequel. This blows my mind. Someone played this, paid for it with cash money, and enjoyed it so much that they asked for another one. I try to give every game a fair shot. Red Johnson doesn't deserve it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The bigger they are...

Borderlands 2 is done. Whew.

Everything you have heard about the last boss is true. He isn't very difficult, but he isn't very interesting either. I can kind of see where they were going with him, but it was much to easy to run around and avoid his attacks while taking pot shots at his glowing weak points. This is made worse by how much health he has; not difficult to figure out what to do, just tedious to do it as many times in a row as is required.

In spite of the last few hours becoming a grind Borderlands 2 was a good game. It did not have a good story but what was there was helped along by a well written villain. The shooting itself was not exceptional but the wealth and variety of weapons made killing what was offered enjoyable. The driving was terrible, but, well, there is no saving that one, the driving was just terrible. From a technical standpoint the graphics were not very good but stylistically I liked it. The world was consistent to itself which is all that really matters.

So, how do you make it better? Borderlands is already a Frankenstein's monster of a game, throwing together a shooter and ARPG loot fest, it just needs to be a little more careful about what games it steals from. Take the shooting and driving from Rage, use the loot system from Titan Quest, discard the entire quest system in favor of something more organic, say from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (the first one, you know, the one you could almost play), simmer the while thing for a few years and launch it on the new hardware.

Boom, it prints money.

...

Giant shooter bosses always make me think of Painkiller and its terrible sequels.


That's how you do a giant boss. On October 31st Painkiller Hell and Damnation comes out. If I read correctly, it is simply a remake of the first game and its expansion. This is something that I want. My problem is that my aging computer could not run Serious Sam 3 to my liking so the odds of this working are slim to none. Consolation prize: Serious Sam 3 is coming out for XBLA later this year. That will be the second time I buy the game and the first time I actually get to play it at a reasonable frame rate. I assume.

...

Demo Friday is going to be a little different. First of all I may post it tonight as I am not going to be near my computer or Xbox tomorrow. Secondly, there were no new games on Wednesday and the two Friday releases are re-releases of Sonic Adventure 2 and Nights in Dreams. I will play those next week. This week I will run back a few more weeks to a few games that I have never heard of.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Who's sapping me?

I could have finished Borderlands 2 last night. When the second quest goal is simply 'finish it' either the game is almost done or you are playing a not safe for work game on your Kinect. On a 3D television. Sponsored by Brazzers.

Ahem. Let me start over.

I could have completed Borderlands 2 last night. There was plenty of time left before bed to so, but then I found the second arena quest and decided to make a run at it. This one did not feature the swarms of enemies that the first one did, instead throwing more powerful robots at you at regular intervals. They don't move as fast and have the annoying habit of killing you and then walking away so you can kill them back before you actually die. Nothing I couldn't deal with by stocking up on more rocket launcher ammo.

This changed on the forth round. There aren't very many flying enemies in Borderlands. The raks are an annoyance but do little damage and easily avoided. There are the bandit flown helicopter things that do reasonable damage but aren't very fast. Finally there are tiny Hyperion robots who fly around healing the walker that you are trying to destroy. If they have no healing target they will attack you. This is where it can get dicey, because they are fast, do pretty good damage, attack in pairs and always, always come at you from behind.

Round four starts with a ship arriving on the battlefield and about seven snipers jumping out. They don't kill you, but the four flying robots who show up behind you as you take cover from the rifle fire do. The round quiets down after them until a constructor shows up escorted by about five more. My poor gunzerker just couldn't deal with them.

'Tiny robots hurt,' he grumbles in his Heavy sound alike voice, 'Why they so fast and hard to shoot? It almost like they were designed to punish solo players...'

That last part was me talking. After an hour of taking it from behind I gave up. I will finish it tonight (probably) but I will be salty about the quest that got away for some time.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Office 2013 OP status revoked, now low tier

Searching didn't work.

It is just a release preview, so I am sure it will be fixed before it actually comes out.

Had to re-install Office 2010 and now it has to rebuild the search indexes, which is taking forever.

Whatever, this whole laptop is getting wiped out soon anyway.

Without the racism, anyway

Seasons Beatings was this weekend. I had thing to play so I attempted to multitask: laptop next to me running the stream with me on the couch playing what needed to be played. This led to me losing even more than usual at Tekken, only to have a pretty good winning streak when I finally turned it off, and not remembering many of last night's matches because I was playing Borderlands 2. I do know that a Cammy player won AE, which is cool, but Marvel was still in top 8 when I had to go to bed. I haven't looked yet, but I am assuming that Chris G won. People's feeling about him and his Morrigan matrix seem to be coming around. I enjoy it because the man has broken the game and very few others have found a way to fix it again.

Time out, off to SRK to see if I am right. Yup, he won. No Justin in top 16? Ouch.

...

I am ready to be done with Borderlands 2. This does not mean that I am not enjoying it, but nothing is changing and Handsome Jack's humorous threats stopped being so humorous several days ago. I go into a new area, farm it for weapons, clean out the side quests, then so a story mission. Rinse and repeat. It all works and it is all fun but this finely tuned tedium does little to combat my gaming wanderlust. I even tried to convince myself that it would be okay to skip a quest or two and just advance the main quest to its conclusion. This didn't work and instead I spent forty five minutes fetching body parts for a robot who wanted to be human.

What saves Borderlands from getting boring is that it never takes itself seriously. Weapon drops, when they are good, one ups whatever you already have equipped with big green arrows and inscrutable color text. Sometime they are actually better, other times that are unusable. This only happens if I have already sold my old weapon, of course. Class abilities are just as irreverent: the final skill in the gunzerker tree give bonus damage to the next few shots in the amount of excess damage done on the previous kill. I have a rocket launcher that does in excess of 10,000 damage that I use on the wimpiest enemies I can find which tuned my pistol into the finger of God.

The system can abused and survives it by throwing silliness right back at you. Tired of the flying raks that nibble at your hit points form behind and then fly off? Too bad, here are dozens more, but they do more damage and have a ton more health. Cleaned an area out? Wait five minutes, they will back. So I heard you like opening chests? Every once in a while there will be a badass shotgun midget hiding inside who will kill you as soon as his hiding place is exposed. The game is crazy on all fronts. I shouldn't work, but it does. It is a loathsome, offensive beast, yet I can't look away.



I am just ready to play something else, that's all. I want to know if Risen 2 really is as bad as I have heard.